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Iraq: British Campaign To Win Public Support For Action

  • Stuart Parrott

London, 5 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The British Government has launched a publicity campaign to draw attention to what is alleged to be Iraq's weapons of mass destruction including chemical and biological weapons capable of killing millions.

The Foreign Office last night released a paper outlining the record of United Nations inspectors in locating "chemical and biological weapons" developed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The paper contains information that has already made public by the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), set up to monitor Iraqi disarmament, including a claim that 600 tones of potential precursors for a nerve agent known as VX cannot be accounted for. The Foreign Office paper says the missing amount could make 200 tones of VX, sufficient to "wipe out the world's population." It says that, "One drop is enough to kill."

The release of the report following threats by the U.S., backed by Britain, to bomb facilities in Iraq alleged to be making or storing biological and chemical weapons, as well as command-and-control centers and special units of Iraq's Republican Guard.

The threatened bombing campaign is opposed by most Arab and European countries, and by Russia whose president Boris Yeltsin has warned that the U.S. could "stumble into a world war."

The release of the report coincides with a visit to Washington of Prime Minister Tony .Blair for talks with President Bill Clinton and a visit to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait of Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

Last night on his way to Washington, Blair told reporters Saddam is "a nasty dictator sitting on an awful lot of nasty stuff. We have got to tell people about the evils of Saddam." And Cook said: "Iraq has built up an appalling stock of weapons. We must be certain that they are totally eradicated and cannot be rebuilt."

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen says that the intensity of the threatened air attack "would be far more than what has been experienced in the past, certainly since the (1991) Gulf war."

Iraq repeated an offer to open up disputed sites to inspections but an UNSCOM official called the offer a "red herring" (misleading).

The U.S. and Britain have launched a military build-up with three U.S. and one British aircraft carrier moving to the Gulf.

Correspondents say the decision to publish the Foreign Office paper giving details of Iraq's reported chemical and biological weapons program is a further sign that the Blair government is gearing up to join the US in military action, if diplomacy fails.

Copies of the paper have been sent to every MP, a sign Blair is looking for support in the House of Commons for action against the Iraqi regime, accused of "deceit, concealment and harassment."

The paper says that the UNSCOM team has succeeded in destroying 38,000 chemical weapons, 480,000 liters of live chemical weapons agents, 48 operational missiles, and 30 special missile warheads for chemical and biological weapons.

But it says the UNSCOM inspectors have been unable to account for 17 tones of a substance called growth media, used to grow spores which could make the deadly anthrax biological germ,

The Financial Times today quoted British officials as saying they could not be sure what stocks of these weapons existed, still less where they might be. They refused to answer questions about the advisability of bombing such stocks, particularly in the light of the FO paper's claim that, if released into the atmosphere from a tall building, 100 kgs of anthrax could kill up to three million people. Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, of April, 1991, which set out the ceasefire terms for ending the Gulf War, Iraq is obliged to accept the destruction or removal of chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles with a range over 150 kms, and to undertake not to develop such weapons in future.