After considerable haggling, 300 Iraqi opposition delegates gathered in London, under a US initiative, have released a political declaration vowing to create a “parliamentary, pluralist, federal” post-Saddam Hussein democratic state in Iraq. This ideal future Iraq will be “de-Baathized”: the ruling Baath party will be extinguished, and Iraq will in theory be a federal state protecting the rights of all its minorities.

A so-called committee of 65 sages will guide the transition. Ahmed al-Bayati, a representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, says that the committee is composed of 66 percent Arabs (33 percent Shi’ites and the other 33 percent “nationalists and democrats,” whatever that means precisely), 25 percent Kurds, 6 percent Turkmen and 3 percent Assyrians. A few Islamist parties denounced the Shi’ite representation as a sham. Baghdad predictably prophesizes the “traitors” will rot in the dustbin of history.

This Brave New World version of Iraq, duly validated by the US, may already be signed and sealed, but the question is to deliver. According to UN Resolution 1441, nothing substantial should happen before January 27, the date when the chiefs of both UN inspection agencies should come up with their first official impression on the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Israel’s Defense Ministry knows very well that Iraq has no nuclear weapons, has maybe a small chemical weapons cache, and has very few bacteriological heads, as well as extremely limited means to deliver them. Anthony Cordesman, an influential researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote in a September report that “we don’t have any means whatsoever to determine the lethality of Iraqi biological weapons … Iraq cannot test such arms in a massive way … We will only find out how dangerous Iraq is when it uses its arms.” Or when it doesn’t.

There’s a fragile consensus among diplomats at the UN in New York and also in Geneva that in theory nothing could happen before January 27 to force the inspectors to quit Iraq so the country could be attacked. The key word is fragile.

The road from here to January 27 is a minefield. On Tuesday, December 17, the Iraqi declaration was delivered to the non-permanent members of the Security Council. This is an edited version, compared to the original (11,807 pages), a reading privilege of the five permanent Security Council members (US, Russia, China, France and Britain). Asia Times Online learned from different sources that this edited version is at least 3,000 pages shorter than the original. UN inspectors were the editors of the original text. But the changes were directed by the Big Five. Their logic rules: recipes to cook weapons of mass destruction should not fall into the wrong hands – meaning countries like Syria, Colombia or Norway.

This Thursday, December 19, UN inspection mission chief Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Mohammed Al-Baradei deliver to the Security Council their preliminary analysis of the Iraqi declaration. The world already knows what America thinks about it. Secretary of State Colin Powell said “there are problems with the declaration.” The British were “disappointed.” The Americans and British want to know about “holes.” They want to know, for instance, what happened to 500 R-400 bombs filled with biological agents that the UN inspectors have been trying to locate for 10 years now. From now on, “holes” (an official American term referring to the declaration) like these are bound to deeply divide the Security Council. At the end of this week comes the word – the American final judgment on the declaration, after everyone has listened to the careful preliminary assessment by Hans Blix. But should Iraq be accused of omitting information, it is still not enough to accuse Saddam Hussein’s regime of “material breach” – the code name for war. According to Resolution 1441, what is necessary is one omission plus lack of cooperation. So in this case, the inspections will accelerate – the inspectors are already visiting around 10 sites a day – to a situation where the emphasis will be on verifying bits and pieces of information.

Enter the American-inspired concept of “commando inspections”.

But “commando inspections” will not be enough without crucial interviews abroad of Iraqi scientists. Hans Blix has already set a deadline of the end of December to receive the complete list of Iraqi scientists who worked or still work in the arms industry. But he is definitely not convinced that scientists’ defections can be successfully staged – and that is exactly the reason why he is being so vilified by large sections of the American media.

That’s where another new idea from Washington pops in: to issue judicial convocations to the UN. It’s one more clever mechanism to trap Iraq: either Saddam Hussein allows scientists requested by the UN to leave the country, or Iraq suffers the consequences.

This coming Friday is the deadline set again by the US – and nobody else – to reach an agreement at the UN over the re-examination of the list of products Iraq has no right to import without authorization, as part of the humanitarian “oil for food” program. Asia Times Online confirmed on the ground months ago how everybody in Iraq – from ministers and professors to the man in the street – hates the oil for food program, widely accused of being an American tool to starve the general population.

This negotiation about the new product list is absolutely crucial. Last week, the US presented to the other 14 countries at the Security Council a list of 36 new products that should be prohibited to Iraq. Asia Times Online has learned that the list contains products like antibiotics, hydraulic systems, radars to monitor the weather, flight simulators and small boats. The official deadline for the list to be reviewed is January 4. UN diplomats say off the record that the express purpose of this additional list is to weaken Iraq even more before the almost inevitable war.

Finally, on January 1, the one-month rotating presidency of the UN Security Council shifts from Colombia to France. And this is the key reason why the US is positioning itself with magnum force before Christmas and New Year: France will refuse to bow under tremendous pressure, as Colombia did. But by all means Iraq continues to be encircled from all sides. Santa Claus is coming to Washington, but does not seem to be coming to Baghdad.

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