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Blair's Iraq Dossier Gets Cool Reception from Allies

25 September 2002

Setting the stage for a fierce international debate, British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned yesterday that Iraq's Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction, but the detailed set of allegations was dismissed by allies of Britain and the United States as insufficient grounds for war.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien joined French President Jacques Chirac and Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji in expressing caution about the British dossier on Iraq, even as U.S. President George W. Bush was strongly endorsing it.

The 55-page document includes new allegations that Iraq is trying to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles that could reach the edge of Europe. The report says the Iraqi government has been shopping in Africa for materials used in the production of nuclear weapons, and would be able to deploy chemical and biological weapons on 45 minutes notice.

It gives no evidence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, a suspicion after the Sept. 11 attacks that turned Western eyes toward Baghdad.

As the debate over Iraq moves to the United Nations Security Council, where the Bush administration is lobbying for a resolution endorsing military action, there are fears the United States and Britain will use the new evidence to justify a pre-emptive strike.

Mr. Chrétien and his Foreign Minister, Bill Graham, said they knew of nothing in the British document to change the Canadian position on Iraq. "While this evidence is important -- it demonstrates why we must be vigilant, why we must absolutely ensure that Saddam Hussein conforms to the mandate to admit free inspections -- it doesn't make a reason to attack Iraq today or tomorrow," Mr. Graham said in Ottawa.

Mr. Chirac, whose government has veto power over the Security Council, went further, saying he had "no proof, only indications" that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. "We believe we should give peace a chance," he said.

China, which also has veto power over Security Council resolutions, warned against the use of force without the UN's mandate.

"Without authority or mandate from the United Nations or without firm evidence, any actions will lead to severe consequences," Mr. Zhu said at a summit of European and Asian governments in Denmark.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri described the findings in the British dossier as "just scaremongering, exaggeration and lies."

In an impassioned speech to Parliament, Mr. Blair said that Mr. Hussein's program is "active, detailed and growing" and has continued to develop since the departure of UN weapons inspectors from Iraq in 1998.

Iraq's ballistic-missile capability is growing, in violation of UN resolutions, the dossier says. Up to 20 al-Hussein missiles have been retained, the report alleges. It says that with a range of up to 650 kilometers, the missiles could reach Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as Turkey and Cyprus, where Britain and the United States have military bases.

The report says Mr. Hussein remains committed to developing missiles with a range of up to 1,000 kilometers within five years.

Based on work by Britain's leading intelligence and security agencies, the report has few other major revelations but lays out the arguments that Mr. Blair believes will convince skeptical Britons and allied nations that military action may be needed to force Iraq to change its ways.

"The threat is not imagined," Mr. Blair told a packed House of Commons. He said he has no doubt that "Iraq, the region and the whole world would be better off without Saddam."

He stressed that the immediate purpose of his policy is disarmament, not military action, although he said, "we know, again from our history, that diplomacy not backed by the threat of force has never worked with dictators, and never will work."

The report was immediately criticized by a group of Labour Party backbenchers opposed to any military action against Iraq.

"There is no smoking gun to be found in this dossier," said Labour MP Alan Simpson. "At best, it is a deeply flawed, partial and superficial document that is heavy on suppositions and light on facts. It is closer to propaganda than it is to scrutiny."

The dossier says that Iraq is using an estimated $3-billion (U.S.) a year from illegal oil sales to speed its weapons program. It says Iraq is continuing its production of chemical and biological weapons and could produce a nuclear weapon within one or two years if it receives foreign help. It could do so on its own in five years, the report says.

The dossier alleges that Iraq has made efforts to procure "significant quantities of uranium from Africa," although it gives no details about the source country or whether the effort was successful. Niger, Namibia and South Africa are known to produce uranium. The report says that over the past four years, Iraq had attempted to purchase specialized equipment and chemicals that could be used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

Among arms experts, opinions were divided over the significance of the dossier's findings.

"There is nothing new in it," said Major Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies reports. "Nothing that I haven't seen or heard of before. We were all expecting the evidence for war, and what we got was evidence for UN inspections."

George Galloway, a Labour MP and a frequent visitor to Iraq, argued that the British public would not be convinced. "They see the rising tides of Islamicist fundamentalism and hatred against the West. They instinctively know that it is extremely unlikely that the world can be made a safer place by launching yet another war in that region."

But Wyn Bowen, a former UN arms inspector, praised the dossier as "an excellent synthesis of information that makes a fairly compelling case."

British Conservative Leader Ian Duncan Smith also applauded the report. "The evidence produced in the government's report shows clearly that Iraq is still pursuing its weapons-of-mass-destruction program. The policy of containment is not working."

Efforts by dissident MPs to force a vote on whether Britain should back military action in Iraq were ruled out of order by the Commons Speaker, although an emergency debate on the subject went on all day.

Prof. Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University, an intelligence expert, said the report is particularly convincing because it was produced by the government's joint-intelligence committee, a well-respected group made up of Britain's top intelligence and security officials.

"The whole of the historical record [of the committee] suggests it's likely to be right," he said.

Prof. Andrew said he is convinced that the dossier's conclusions are accurate and the Iraqi threat is real.

"There is no easy answer, but the one thing that we cannot do is nothing," he said. "This is not something that Saddam Hussein began a year ago or 10 years ago. He has been determined for 30 years to turn Iraq into a country that can terrify its neighbors."

But Geoffrey Robertson, a British human-rights lawyer, scoffed at the quality of the evidence that the dossier purports to provide.

He cited the report's statement that Mr. Hussein attempted to procure uranium in Africa. "Where is the evidence? When? Where? How is he alleged to have tried to get this uranium from Africa? There is no evidence attached to that," Mr. Robertson said.

"The report is oddly reassuring because it shows that Saddam is not a threat to England or the United States," he said, noting that the Iraqi leader is at least a year or two from putting together nuclear weapons.

Alan Freeman, London
Published in the Toronto Globe and Mail © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc

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