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U.S. readies more aircraft carriers

U.N. weapons inspectors walk through Al Fat'h company's research-and-development facility west of Baghdad on Thursday.
U.N. weapons inspectors walk through Al Fat'h company's research-and-development facility west of Baghdad on Thursday.

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PERSPECTIVE
Fouad Ajami, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University, has written a major piece on Iraq for Foreign Affairs magazine.  In an interview, CNN's Leon Harris asked Ajami if he thinks war with Iraq is inevitable:

"Well, I think we've crossed the Rubicon on this issue. I think it's reckoning time for Saddam Hussein. We have to get him or forget him, because we have come to this point in this story. The man has mocked American power. The man is a threat to our interests. And though he may not have been directly implicated in September 11, his example in the region is radicalizing. So it's time to really resolve this. ...

"People say, 'Are the Saudis with us or are they not? Are the Turks with us or are they not?' They will be with us if we resolve this. But if they continue to hear that there's a fight in Washington between the hawks and the doves and that Secretary [of State Colin] Powell doesn't want war or Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld wants war, they will simply duck and wait for us to make that decision.  Once we make that decision, we will transform that landscape."

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American soldiers in Kuwait celebrate the new year with an improvised talent show. CNN's Ryan Chilcote reports.
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Sources tell CNN's Jamie McIntyre as many as 100 warplanes are being moved to the Gulf in a buildup that could stretch into March.
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(CNN) -- With events moving closer to a possible war with Iraq, here is a look at some of the latest developments around the world:

ROAD TO WAR?

• CARRIERS READIED: The U.S. Navy has extended the tour of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in case it is needed for action against Iraq, Pentagon sources told CNN Thursday. The Lincoln and its battle group were scheduled to return this month to its home port of Everett, Washington. Three other carriers are being readied for deployment ahead of schedule, including the USS Theodore Roosevelt on the East Coast and the USS Carl Vinson and USS Nimitz on the West Coast. The United States already has two carrier battle groups in the Middle East: USS Constellation in the Persian Gulf and the USS Harry S. Truman in he Mediterranean Sea. (Full story)

• COALITION STRIKES: For the second time in two days, Operation Southern Watch aircraft struck Iraqi military targets late Thursday, the U.S. Central Command said. The Iraqi communication facilities about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad were struck after Iraq fired anti-aircraft artillery at coalition aircraft monitoring the southern no-fly zone, the command said. (Full story)

• IRAQI MILITARY EXERCISES: Two brigades of Saddam Hussein's best troops -- the Iraqi Republican Guard -- have been conducting training exercises that focus on preparing for urban combat and defense against chemical attack, Pentagon sources told CNN Thursday. A U.S. official familiar with the latest intelligence reports from Iraq said two the brigades engaged in the training at sites near Baghdad "in recent days." (Full story)

• LEAFLET DROP: Coalition aircraft dropped more leaflets over towns in southern Iraq Thursday. The leaflets encouraged locals to listen to radio broadcasts transmitted from U.S. aircraft in the area, according to military officials. The broadcasts describe Saddam's "lust for power." It was the 12th leaflet drop in the past three months, the U.S. Central Command said. (Full story)

• NORTH KOREA AND IRAQ: President Bush is warning against comparing North Korea's nuclear weapons program to the threat from Iraq. He said he's confident that the stalemate with Pyongyang is not going to lead to military action. (Full story)

• EARTHBOUND INSPECTIONS: U.N. teams began their first searches of the new year amid objections from Iraq to planned aerial inspections of suspected weapons sites. U.N. intelligence sources told CNN that helicopter surveys of Iraqi sites may have been delayed Wednesday for "technical reasons." But the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the matter had been the topic of discussion in a meeting between U.N. and Iraqi officials. (Full story)

WAR OF WORDS

• The director of Iraq's monitoring agency said Thursday that five weeks of U.N. inspections have proved Iraq to be credible in its declaration that it no longer has weapons of mass destruction. "All those activities prove that the Iraqi declarations are credible and the American allegations are baseless. They are lying for political reasons," said Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin. Meanwhile, U.N. inspectors Thursday visited more of Iraq's chemical, missile and biological facilities. (Full story)

• Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has said that contrary to statements from the White House the United States plans to invade Iraq regardless of the results of ongoing U.N. inspections for weapons of mass destruction. Wire services quoted Aziz as telling an anti-war delegation from Spain, "They [the U.S.] didn't say, 'Let us wait for a while for the result of the inspection and then let's decide what to do.' When they continue their preparations for the war of aggression, what does that mean? It doesn't mean that they are genuinely afraid of an imaginary Iraqi threat. It means that they have an imperialist design. That design is to invade Iraq, to occupy Iraq and use the national resources of Iraq for the purposes of ... the American capitalist regime."

• On the tendency of many to compare the Iraq issue with North Korea: "There is strong consensus," Bush said in Crawford, Texas, "not only amongst the nations in the neighborhood and our friends, but also at the international organizations, such as the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], that North Korea ought to comply with international regulations. I believe this can be done peacefully through diplomacy, and we will continue to work that way. All options, of course, are always on the table for any president, but by working with these countries, we can resolve this." (Full story)

• Iraq's daily Babel newspaper -- owned by Saddam's eldest son Uday -- suggested Iraqis might be better served by imitating North Korea where inspections are concerned. Babel said the North Korean move to restart its nuclear programs and expel U.N. monitors was "courageous" and that such a move might force the "U.S.-Zionist crusade" to respect Iraq. (North Korea seeks to divide U.S. and South Korea)

IMPACT

• About 30 activists from the Iraq Peace Team, a U.S.-British coalition against economic sanctions waved and sang peace songs Wednesday as U.N. weapons inspectors in Baghdad moved off their compound to make their first inspections of 2003. The group released a dove as inspectors drove by. They called for a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis and a rejection of any military action against the country. (Full story)

• It is "impossible to know" what the cost of a possible war in Iraq might be, and the only reference point is the price tag of the 1991 Persian Gulf War -- $60 billion -- a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday. The spokesman, Trent Duffy, said OMB Director Mitch Daniels did not intend to imply, in an interview with the New York Times, that $50 billion to $60 billion is a hard White House estimate. "He said it could -- could -- be $60 billion," Duffy said. (Full story)



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