- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) — President George W. Bush Saturday marked the 15th anniversary of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's chemical attack against the Kurdish town of Halabja.

"The chemical attack on Halabja — just one of 40 targeted at Iraq's own people — provided a glimpse of the crimes Saddam Hussein is willing to commit, and the kind of threat he now presents to the entire world. He is among history's cruelest dictators, and he is arming himself with the world's most terrible weapons," Bush said in his weekly radio address to the nation.

The president made his remarks as he was set to leave for the Portuguese Azores island chain for a summit with the leaders of Britain and Spain, co-sponsors of a draft resolution calling for Saddam to fully and immediately disarm or face military consequences.

Halabja is a predominantly Kurdish village in northeastern Iraq. On March 16, 1988, the Iraqi military attacked the people there with mustard gases and other poison gases, killing roughly 5,000 civilians and injuring another 10,000, according to the State Department.

On Friday, the State Department commemorated the deaths of the civilians saying that the United States reaffirmed its commitment to "ensuring that Saddam Hussein and his henchmen can never again use weapons such as these against the international community, its neighbors, or its own people."

Bush said that whole families died trying to flee the clouds of nerve and mustard agents and that many who managed to survive still suffer from cancer, blindness, respiratory diseases, miscarriages, and severe birth defects among their children.

"Recognizing this threat, the United Nations Security Council demanded that Saddam Hussein give up all his weapons of mass destruction as a condition for ending the Gulf War 12 years ago," Bush said Saturday. "The Security Council has repeated this demand numerous times and warned that Iraq faces serious consequences if it fails to comply. Iraq has responded with defiance, delay and deception."

Friday afternoon he met at the White House with three Iraqi civilians who survived the 1988 chemical attack. They told Bush about the physical and psychological problems they still exhibit as a result of the assault.

The Azores summit marks one of the United States' final attempts at diplomacy as it concentrates on how to get U.N. support for the resolution that would authorize military action against Iraq. France and Russia have threatened to use their veto in the Security Council to block approval of the measure. If France and Russia do not use their veto, the United States and United Kingdom could win with nine votes. At issue are six undecided nations: Mexico, Chile, Cameroon, Angola, Pakistan, and Guinea.

"The meeting is a chance for the co-sponsors of this resolution to speak and to meet. It's for those nations that are standing by (Resolution) 1441 as the sponsors of this resolution to meet," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Friday afternoon. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed in early November, warned of "serious consequences" should Iraq fail to disarm.

European diplomats in Washington, however, said news of the summit has diverted attention from the United Nations. They say the Bush administration has already decided it will go into action with or without the umbrella of U.N. approval, and continued U.S. diplomatic efforts have been to help Blair's faltering domestic approval.

But Bush has adamantly maintained that there is little reason to hope Saddam will disarm.

"If force is required to disarm him, the American people can know that our armed forces have been given every tool and every resource to achieve victory," Bush said.

He went on to say that crucial days lie ahead for free nations of the world. Governments are now showing whether their stated commitments to liberty and security are words alone — or convictions they're prepared to act upon, he said.

"And for the government of the United States and the coalition we lead, there is no doubt: we will confront a growing danger, to protect ourselves, to remove a patron and protector of terror, and to keep the peace of the world."

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