Using language meant to be read with unmistakable clarity in Baghdad, British government ministers have stated that a war with Iraq is increasingly likely and that an allied military strike will be possible any time after mid-November. British military commanders also have begun saying that their options in the Gulf include mounting an attack on Iraq and Iraqi positions in Kuwait, and defending Saudi Arabia.
The new mood arises from close consultation with the Bush administration and private discussions among European Community leaders in Rome last weekend, British officials say. It was spelled out Wednesday by Douglas Hurd, the foreign secretary, and Sir Patrick Hine, the air chief marshal, who commands the 15,000-strong British force in the Gulf.
Mr. Hurd told the Royal Institute of International Affairs that the time had arrived to ``tighten the military screw'' on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Sanctions were producing ``some shortages,'' but it was ``not sensible'' to let Saddam play a ``cat-and-mouse game'' indefinitely.
Sir Patrick, speaking at a news conference, reinforced this assessment, saying that a military attack on Iraq was ``increasingly likely.'' He said his troops would be ready to mount an attack once the Seventh Armored Brigade (``the Desert Rats'') and the main British ground formation in the Gulf, completed preparations in two weeks.
British defense sources later commented that reports from Washington, suggesting that the initial phase of an allied assault would begin with an air bombardment on Iraqi targets, appeared basically correct.
The reported plan calls for a two-day operation by 1,000 United States, Saudi Arabian, British, and French aircraft. Targets would include Iraqi airfields and ground missile installations.