Blair Indicts Saddam

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Tony Blair addresses parliament before of a debate on Iraq

Last week a U.S. official called it "underwhelming," and several British officials close to Tony Blair agreed that it contained no smoking gun, no proof "that Saddam has an atom bomb in Basra." But today Blair's government released its long-promised dossier on Saddam's program to build weapons of mass destruction, hours before parliament assembled for an emergency debate on Iraq. Among its key findings:

  • Chemical and Biological Weapons: Iraq continues to manufacture chemical and biological weapons, and has military plans for their use — in some cases within 45 minutes of the order being given. It also has mobile labs for producing biological warfare agents and multiple methods of delivering them, including mortars, artillery, bombs, drone sprayer aircraft and missiles.

  • Nuclear Weapons: Iraq is still trying to acquire "technology and materials which could be used in the production of nuclear weapons," and has "sought to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power program that could require such material." Baghdad also retains a large corps of experienced personnel now at work on building nukes.

  • Missiles: Iraq has already extended the range of its missiles beyond UN-approved limits, and recently built a test stand for the development of missiles capable of flying 600 miles, putting NATO member states Turkey and Greece within range. Iraq is also procuring forbidden materials for use in this illegal program.

  • Deception: Iraq never came clean to the UN inspectors it has forbidden from entering the country since 1998. It has "learned lessons from previous UN weapons inspections and has already begun to conceal sensitive equipment and documentation in advance of the return of inspectors."

    The dossier notes that all this work violates UN resolutions as well as other treaties, and serves Saddam's proven passion, going back more than 20 years, to acquire a big collection of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

    The 55-page document is the product of close collaboration between British and U.S. intelligence, and of tussles between politicians and spies about how much secret data to release. It's true that the dossier contains no "killer fact" capable of converting doubters to the cause of imminent war. But that isn't Blair's purpose. He is trying to build a cumulative case that Saddam is both intent on acquiring more WMDs, and is therefore too dangerous to be left unchecked by the international community, given his long record of brutality towards his own people, aggression towards his neighbors and contempt for Security Council resolutions. Without any single killer fact, the sheer weight of evidence presented — in which Blair said his British intelligence had high confidence — does make a powerful case.

    It has to. British opinion remains skittish about actually going to war with Saddam, in large part because people here think George W. Bush, who some call the "President of Texas," will go off on his own regardless of international opinion — including Blair's. With this document, as with his other recent public statements, Blair is laboring to shift the onus from Bush to Saddam: how can anyone justify his record of contempt for international law? And if you can't justify it, can you just sit by and let it continue? Because hostilities aren't imminent, he isn't expected to have major trouble with restive Labor backbenchers in a vote tonight. But at the annual Labor Party conference next week, and throughout the fall, Blair plans a major campaign to convince doubters that a nuclear-armed Saddam would threaten British — not only American — interests, and may, in the end, warrant going to war.