WASHINGTON – The United States has slowly and quietly begun building momentum for an international military coalition to challenge Iraq's Saddam Hussein as wavering allies have gotten on board in recent weeks.
Nations such as Canada that had expressed doubts about joining a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq a few months ago have changed course since the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution last month ordering Saddam to disarm. As U.N. weapons inspectors resumed their work in Iraq for the first time in four years, more countries began talking openly of their support for military action should the inspections fail.
Besides staunch allies like Britain and Australia, the list of countries agreeing to aid a military campaign against Iraq now includes Iraq's northern neighbor, Turkey; other NATO allies such as Italy, Spain, Denmark and Portugal; and Arab states including Kuwait and Qatar.
"When the (Bush) administration invested in the inspections process and decided to go the route of the United Nations, that's what a lot of these countries needed to hear," said Michael Donovan, an analyst at the private Center for Defense Information.
"It's not so much because they necessarily felt Saddam was worthy of one more chance. The inspections process was the political cover they required for even quiet support of an operation like this."
Some countries, especially new or aspiring NATO members such as Romania and Bulgaria, have been eager to offer help. Despite reservations by Germany and France, NATO itself is considering aiding any Iraq campaign, albeit mainly in a supporting role.
Going to the United Nations showed reluctant countries that President Bush was willing to make the fight against Saddam an international one, analysts said.
"What it means is, even if we don't get a second Security Council resolution (authorizing force), we'll still be in a better place," said Michael O'Hanlon of the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution. "I think we'll get a decent coalition."
Bush and other officials have said they welcome military and other assistance from abroad, pointing to the more than 90 nations helping in the global war on terrorism. But they have said repeatedly they will not let coalition partners change U.S. plans or keep America out of the fray.
The administration has approached about 50 countries to ask if they would be willing to help in any military action against Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last month.
"Some have said they will help a lot, some have said a little," Rumsfeld said. "Some have asked that what they are prepared to do be kept confidential."
Another reason the coalition is growing is that countries realize the United States has the military power to make Saddam's ouster virtually certain.
"There is a growing acceptance internationally that a war is unavoidable against Iraq," said Nile Gardiner, a visiting scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "Most countries will want to be seen supporting the winning side."
That motive could prompt more Arab countries to join the anti-Iraq coalition, at least quietly, to be in a better position to protect their interests after Saddam's ouster.
"At the 11th hour, I think you'll see a lot of countries jump on board," said the Center for Defense Information's Donovan.