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Iraq: Britain's Blair Outlines Weapons Case As Baghdad Dismisses Accusations

  • Eugen Tomiuc

Britain today released a dossier that Prime Minister Tony Blair says contains evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction. The release of the dossier was followed by a debate on Iraq in the House of Commons. Blair, speaking at the beginning of the debate, said that Hussein's weapons program is "active, detailed, and growing." Iraq immediately dismissed the report as groundless. Analysts say that while the document contains little new information, it could help bring United Nations inspectors back to Iraq but on much stricter terms.

Prague, 24 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Britain today published a dossier that says Iraq is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, and is pursuing efforts to build nuclear weapons.

The 55-page document says the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is capable of deploying chemical and biological weapons in less than an hour and has been trying to obtain large quantities of uranium from Africa.

In a foreword to the document, British Prime Minister Tony Blair says it was compiled using evidence from the government's Joint Intelligence Committee. In it, Blair says he has "no doubt" the threat is serious and current, that Hussein has made progress on developing weapons of mass destruction, and that "he has to be stopped."

Blair, speaking today in parliament at the beginning of a debate on Iraq, said Saddam Hussein's weapons-of-mass-destruction program "is active, detailed, and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The weapons-of-mass-destruction program is not shut down. It is up and running now."

The dossier alleges Iraq has continued to produce chemical and biological agents, despite United Nations Security Council resolutions and despite Baghdad's denials. Blair, presenting the report, said that Iraq has military plans in place for the use of chemical and biological weapons on short notice, including against its own population.

"The intelligence picture [the intelligence services] paint is one accumulated over the last four years. It is extensive, detailed, and authoritative. It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population, and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear-weapons capability," Blair said.

Baghdad, according to the document, has developed mobile laboratories for the production of biological-warfare agents and has pursued illegal programs to procure materials for the production of chemical and biological weapons. It has also sought covertly to acquire technology and materials that could be used in the production of nuclear weapons and has sought to acquire what it calls "significant quantities" of uranium from Africa.

"We know Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether he has been successful," Blair said.

The document assesses that if it were able to obtain fissionable material from abroad, Iraq would need between one and two years to develop a nuclear weapon. It also says Baghdad could build a nuclear bomb within five years if it had to enrich the uranium itself.

The document also alleges that Hussein has illegally retained up to 20 al-Hussein missiles, capable of carrying chemical or biological warheads. Such missiles have a range of 650 kilometers, which is beyond the UN-imposed limit of 150 kilometers.

The dossier says that Iraq has a program to develop missiles capable of reaching British military bases in Cyprus, NATO allies Greece and Turkey, the Persian Gulf states, and Israel.

It goes on to say that Iraq was able to finance its weapons program with illicit earnings outside UN control. According to the document, in 2001, Baghdad generated illegal income of some $3 billion.

The dossier points out that the threat Iraq poses does not solely depend on its military capabilities but also arises from what it calls "the violent and aggressive nature of Saddam Hussein's regime."

Blair said it is "unprecedented" for the government to publish such a document. But he said he decided to share with the British public the reasons why he believes that the current situation represents what he called "a current and serious threat to the U.K. national interest."

Iraq immediately dismissed the contents of the dossier. Iraqi Culture Minister Hamed Yousif Hummadi told reporters in Baghdad today that Blair's accusations are "groundless." "This is within the campaign launched by world Zionism against Iraq. Blair's claims are absolutely groundless. Blair is having discussions with the House of Commons. The proof which he alleges he has is under debate even inside the British House of Commons," Hummadi said.

Meanwhile, Charles Kennedy, the leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, the third-largest party in the House of Commons, said his party is against what he called "American unilateralism." "For those of use who have never subscribed to British unilateralism, we are not about to sign up to American unilateralism now, either," Kennedy said.

However, Blair stated that the purpose of his efforts is Iraqi disarmament and not military conflict. "Our purpose is disarmament. No one wants military conflict. The whole purpose of putting this before the United Nations is to demonstrate the united determination of the international community to resolve this in the way it should have been resolved years ago, through a proper process of disarmament under the UN. Disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction is the demand," Blair said.

Blair's dossier was released after some top politicians in Blair's own Labour Party, notably International Development Secretary Clare Short and former Foreign Minister Robin Cook, expressed opposition to the unquestioning support from London for the U.S. stance on Iraq and backed calls for greater involvement by the United Nations.

Some analysts, meanwhile, note that the dossier, despite adding few new elements regarding Iraq's military capabilities, was a surprise.

Charles Heyman, editor of "Jane's World Armies," told RFE/RL that the report did not outline, as expected, the British government's reasons for going along with the United States in a war against Iraq. Instead, Heyman said, the document makes the case for stricter UN action. "This is a report which I believe is designed to be supporting evidence for a UN resolution on allowing weapons inspectors back into Iraq on a much harsher and much stricter inspection program than we've seen before. So this is a clever document. This is clearly designed for probably British domestic consumption and, certainly, the international community as a whole. I think the document is really saying, 'There is clearly a problem here and clearly a threat. We have to investigate that threat, and we must do it through weapons inspectors. If weapons inspections fail, then we almost certainly have to consider military action against Iraq,'" Heyman said.

Heyman said he believes the weapons-inspection route is the "correct one to go down."

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