- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

LONDON Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will host Vice President Richard B. Cheney in London today, has begun a major campaign to prepare the British public for military strikes aimed at toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Blair has warned that without early action, "we may find out too late the potential for destruction" that Iraq possesses. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has meanwhile cited evidence that Baghdad is again working on a nuclear bomb and has missiles capable of hitting targets across the Middle East.
The government is preparing a dossier that sources close to the prime minister say will prove that Iraq has developed nuclear armaments beyond the blueprint stage, that it already possesses other weapons of mass destruction, and that it actively supports international terrorism possibly including Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization.
The dossier is expected to provide the "convincing evidence" that British leaders seek to persuade their European allies and their own people of the need for military action against Iraq. Britain produced a similar dossier last fall to make the case that Osama bin Laden was personally responsible for the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.
Mr. Blair is expected to present the papers to President Bush next month during a visit to the president's Texas ranch that almost certainly will focus on Iraq policy.
Mr. Blair may also give Mr. Cheney a look at the material when he visits the prime minister's No. 10 Downing Street office today on his way to the Middle East.
Mr. Cheney will also visit Kuwait, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey, Oman, Jordan, Israel and Yemen. He is expected to gauge support for tough action against Iraq and study ways to end the mounting violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
So far, the Blair-Straw rhetoric has won virtually no support from Britain's allies in Europe some of whom are even questioning their own role in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. There is also a risk of a major rebellion within the ranks of the prime minister's ruling Labor Party.
Political sources say at least one Cabinet minister has threatened to resign if Britain joins the United States in an attack on Iraq, and others are reported agonizing over the prospect.
Meanwhile, 52 members of Parliament, many of them Mr. Blair's Laborites, have signed a motion expressing "deep unease" about the prospect of British involvement in a war against Saddam's regime.
Tam Dalyell, a respected Labor Member of Parliament, dismissed the idea of a new air war against Iraq as "preposterous." Fellow Labor legislator Alan Simpson objected to "signing up to a war which is really George Bush's warfl a war that did not carry the sanction of other members of the international community."
Legislator Alice Mahon signaled what could become the key concern of British voters who already have given Mr. Blair two terms in office: "No evidence has ever been produced that Iraq wants to attack this country." She also accused the United States of "blatant warmongering."
What has caught Parliament off guard is an apparent U-turn by Mr. Blair since November, when he was urging caution about spreading the war on terrorism to Iraq.
Britons at large also are showing signs of disenchantment. An opinion poll published in the Mail on Sunday showed that of those surveyed, fewer than half supported a combat role in Iraq. Similar polls had shown 75 percent support for British involvement alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The prime minister may have already closed off any retreating from his tough new stance on Iraq. As one British diplomat put it, "Blair has associated himself so closely with the war on terrorism that it is too late to get cold feet now."
In a speech last week to Commonwealth leaders in Australia, Mr. Blair said that for 10 years the world ignored conditions in Afghanistan not unlike those currently in Iraq. "It may have been better, in retrospect, if we had had the foresight to deal with it earlier."
He carried the theme further in a commentary published in London's Express newspaper: "If we fail to continue to restrain Saddam Hussein, what is already a volatile situation in the region could easily become a world crisis."
He insisted that Saddam "is continuing his chemical and biological weapons programs, and is developing the long-range missiles to deliver them."
In an article penned for The Times newspaper in London, Mr. Straw warmed to the subject. Those Iraqi missiles already are in violation of a 90-mile limit imposed by the United Nations and can hit targets "as far away as the United Arab Emirates and Israel," he wrote.
In addition, he said that "there is evidence of increased efforts to procure nuclear-related material and technology, and that nuclear research has begun again. Without the controls we have imposed, Saddam would have a nuclear bomb by now. …
"We cannot allow Saddam to hold a gun to the heads of his own people, his neighbors and the world," Mr. Straw wrote. "Let no one especially Saddam doubt our resolve."

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