Report: Army Says Iraq War Decided

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- European heavyweights France and Germany joined forces Wednesday to prevent any U.S.-led war on Iraq, which French President Jacques Chirac called "the worst solution."

But a high-ranking Russian military source said Washington and its allies had already decided to launch a monthlong military strike from mid-February with or without fresh backing from the UN Security Council, in which Russia and France hold veto powers, Interfax reported. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said he knew nothing about such a decision.

"Germany and France have the same judgment on this crisis," Chirac said at a news conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der commemorating their countries' 40-year special relationship as the political and economic driving force of the European Union.

"We agree completely to harmonize our positions as closely as possible to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis," Schr?der said.

Their comments, and the attack plan carried by Interfax's military news wire AVN, signaled a sharp increase in tensions surrounding the possibility of war against Iraq, accused by Washington of hiding banned weapons.

Iraq said its anti-aircraft batteries had shot down an unmanned U.S. spy plane Wednesday, after destroying an aircraft in December in what General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, described as a "lucky shot." The U.S. military denied a plane had been shot down Wednesday.

U.S. President George W. Bush is massing more than 150,000 troops in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and has already made clear he is ready to use them, with or without a new mandate from the Security Council.

Bush says he has seen no proof of total disarmament but is hoping UN weapons inspectors will back his view when they report to the Security Council on Monday and insists the decision on whether to launch a strike has not yet been taken.

AVN quoted an unnamed senior source in the General Staff as saying, however, that U.S.-led operations would be launched once an attacking force had been assembled in the Gulf.

"According to the information we have, the operation is planned for the second half of February. The decision to launch it has been made, but not yet been made public," the source told the agency, which generally has authoritative contacts in the Russian military and political establishment.

But Ivanov said, "On the basis of information at my disposal, no decision has been taken by the U.S. administration on launching a military operation in Iraq," Russian news agencies reported.

Ivanov restated Russia's position that only the UN Security Council could legitimately authorize military action.

"The military operation against Iraq will be conducted by a combination of means -- strikes will be from the air, land and sea," the Russian military source told AVN. "The war will be short, lasting about one month."

The source added that the main aim of the operation was not so much to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein but to secure U.S. control over Iraqi oil fields.

"Hussein is the pretext. The real aim of the military action is control over Iraqi oil," he said.

The State Duma, meanwhile, approved with only a single dissenting vote a resolution urging President Vladimir Putin to take "all possible actions ... to prevent U.S. military action against Iraq.

Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage flew to Moscow on Wednesday to try to convince officials that diplomatic options were "just about exhausted."

UN arms inspectors say they need several more months to search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Tuesday that "most countries" believed diplomacy had a long way to run.

France, which says it has yet to see a convincing case for war, has hinted strongly that it might veto a resolution authorizing force. Most of the 15 council members have said the inspectors need more time.

In Iraq, scores of UN inspectors searched more sites suspected of producing banned arms, while a UN official said Iraq would face mass starvation if a rationing system to cope with 13 years of sanctions collapses during any U.S. invasion.

Australia is due to send troops and a transport ship to the Gulf this week, and Washington's closest ally, Britain, has ordered thousands of troops to the Gulf.

Bush hosts British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Jan. 31 for what some see as a possible council of war. The inspectors say Iraq's record so far has been mixed, and Blair reiterated Wednesday that that was not good enough.

"The inspections regime is not a detective agency. That duty to cooperate is not just about access to sites it is about being open and honest," he told parliament.