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Survey sees Iraq war in early 2003

London, Dec. 10 (Reuters): Iraq’s massive arms dossier is unlikely to dissuade the US from invading to depose President Saddam Hussein within the next three months, according to a Reuters poll of defence experts.

Ten of the 18 experts in the global survey said war was still likely or very likely and six gave a 50-50 chance that US troops would go into Iraq, probably in January or February.

“It’s inevitable,” said Magnus Ranstorp at the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland. “The volume of the evidence handed over is a very clever stalling tactic... but there will be military conflict after this.”

Most analysts thought conflict would last between two weeks and three months, but the US would keep troops in Iraq long after this. “The actual fighting is likely to be less than a month but that is only the beginning,” said US West Asia specialist Judith Kipper, who puts the chances of war at 50-50.

Analysts in the US, Europe, West Asia and Asia contributed to the survey. Only two said war was unlikely. However most analysts saw a fairly limited risk of long-term disruption to the oil market — the major economic threat from any conflict in the oil-rich region.

“We're going to see an oil price spike that will diminish comparatively quickly and no extended interruption to oil supplies,” said Toby Dodge of the University of Warwick, who sees war as very likely.

“The United States clearly have a big strategic reserve, the Saudis will up their pumping and even if the Iraqis fire all their own oil wells, that's not going to interrupt supply.” Most analysts thought the risks of war had been left broadly unchanged by Iraq’s 12,000-page response to the UN demand to declare any weapons of mass destruction. “It will be difficult to find a ‘trigger’ if Iraq does not overreact, but the Bush administration seems determined and the military build-up proceeds apace,” said one US expert who asked not to be named. “The scenario moves forward more or less as planned.”

There was no consensus on whether recent attacks attributed to al Qaida, such as the Bali and Mombasa bombings, would spur or deter a US invasion of Iraq, loosely linked by Washington to global terrorism.

Dodge at Warwick University thought such attacks made war less likely. “If the al Qaida managed to land (another) blow on continental America... this would highlight the fact that Iraq isn’t the main enemy, that Bush’s war is mistargeted,” he said.

“Al Qaida are clearly a transnational, non-geographically-based result of globalisation. Iraq is a hangover from before globalisation, a rogue state fighting for its autonomy.”

Others thought such attacks were having little impact on policy. “If anything the war on Iraq has made terrorism more likely because intelligence assets are being shifted into finding evidence against Iraq, away from looking for terrorists,” said Jeremy Binnie at Jane’s Sentinel.

Asked what could dissaude the US from invading Iraq, some analysts said concerted opposition from other major powers could undermine US public support for the conflict and make Washington more concerned about the aftermath of invasion.

Kipper, who is associated with the Washington-based. Council on Foreign Relations and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, cited other possible deterrents to war.

“A new al Qaida attack in the US, a major outbreak of instability in West Asia, or crisis elsewhere like Korea or China/Taiwan or India/Pakistan” could all force US to rethink, she said.

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