London, Jan. 31 (Reuters): The US is highly likely to lead an invasion of Iraq in the next two months and the war should be over by the end of June, according to a Reuters survey of experts.
Yesterday’s poll of 20 defence and West Asian experts also showed that Washington had a good chance of securing a new UN resolution explicitly endorsing an invasion, despite the reservations of France, Germany, Russia and China.
Two-thirds of the experts said Iraq probably still possessed significant stocks of chemical and biological weapons, despite more than a decade of UN demands for disarmament.
They saw little likelihood that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would give up office peacefully or that he could be deposed or assassinated without a US invasion.
“The horse is already out of the barn,” said Sarah Emerson at Boston-based Energy Security Analysis. “The invasion will take place and if the US feels that it can... then they will definitely go for a (second) resolution that gives more credibility nationally.
“If they don’t feel they can get that, then they won’t ask... There is more of a coalition than public statements imply. When push comes to shove, countries will get on the bandwagon because they want to be part of the peace.” All but one of the experts said the US, backed by British troops, would invade by the end of March. But they were split on how soon troops would be fully prepared for Washington to unleash the air bombardment that would be followed, possibly within days, by a land invasion.
Ten thought the force wouldn’t be fully in place, briefed and acclimatised until well into March. Nine thought they would be ready to fight by late February. Most thought the conflict would then last up to three months, though one said it could take longer and eight thought it would be over in a month.
Estimates of how long US troops would then stay on in Iraq while a new administration was established ranged widely, from six months to 10 years.
Many of the experts, in the US, Europe, West Asia and Asia, had been unsure until recently that the US would press ahead with an invasion.
In the last Reuters poll, a narrow majority of 10 out of 18 experts said war was likely or very likely. But in yesterday’s poll, 14 said war was very likely, five said likely and one said the chances were 50:50. The consensus has hardened after the US stepped up its war of words and after UN inspectors presented a critical report on how far Iraq was complying with demands to prove it has disarmed.