by Simon Tisdall
This will be a big week for Iraq and all those who wish to bomb it. Since last summer's heady excitements, when George Bush seemed ready to go Saddam-hunting all on his ownsome, Washington hawks and assorted birds of prey have endured a series of false dawns.
First there was their rising hope that the UN security council, challenged by Bush in September to put up or shut up, would fail to agree a common course of action. That would have left the way clear for the US, claiming prior authority, to fire at will. But resolution 1441, passed on November 8 and mandating resumed weapons inspections, frustrated beaky avian hopes of early morning glory.
Next came the seven-day deadline for Iraq's full, unconditional acceptance of the UN's onerous new rules. Vultures gathering on the Potomac shore figured the terms were just too tough. Maybe Saddam could live with foreign busybodies clutching clipboards and bleeping gadgets zooming around the country like so many misguided Scuds. Maybe Iraq's famously paranoid dictator would be able, just, to ignore the humiliating media circus that followed the UN parade.
But surely even he, grimly locked though he is into best behaviour mode, would baulk at the prospect of Hans Blix plodding portentously through presidential palace boudoirs, magnifying glass in hand like a latterday Holmes, looking for the dog that didn't bark? No sir. Slippery Saddam disappointed them all. He met the deadline with time to spare and, in febrile US imaginings at least, went off to run an acid bath.