US military planners are now looking at mid-March as a starting date for a war against Iraq, the Washington Times reported Thursday.
The delay is caused by diplomatic snags and difficulties in moving heavy Army divisions, the report said.
The timing of the war is critical, US officials said, because it is best for troops and machines to fight in the Gulf's winter weather than its oppressive desert heat of the summer. The temperatures begin to rise in April.
When war plans were maturing in the summer, planners looked at February as the optimum time to begin military action. But President George W. Bush subsequently decided to take the issue ofI raqi disarmament to the United Nations.
US officials said the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, after a four-year absence, and the need for a debate in the UN Security Council, extended the war timeline.
The White House continued to signal this week that Bush will not let the debate at the United Nations push a war decision into the summer.
"There's not a lot of time left," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, adding that either Turkey agrees to host US ground troops for a northern front or the United States would position them elsewhere.
Senior Bush administration officials have said this month that a war decision is "weeks, not months" away.
The US army, which must move heavy armored forces across the Atlantic, is still several weeks away from being in place to begin a drive toward Baghdad.
The 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas, has shipped its Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles across the Atlantic. But most of its 20,000 soldiers remain in the United States, still unsure of whether they will invade from Turkey in the north, or from some other point.