SADDAM HUSSEIN challenged Tony Blair yesterday to publish evidence that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction or drop his aggressive rhetoric.
The “put up or shut up” demand came as a government minister risked fueling
unease among Labour MPs over Iraq by ruling out a vote in the House of Commons
to approve the deployment of British troops. Mr Blair said last week that he would
publish proof of Saddam’s weapons capability “if the time comes for action”. But
he has refused repeated requests to provide the evidence Britain has compiled.
Baghdad issued a statement challenging the Prime Minister. “If Blair wants to prove that his claims are true, then our invitation to Britain is valid and we challenge him to present any evidence that Iraq is producing such weapons,” it said.
Downing Street responded that ample evidence already existed. Officials said the immediate issue was for Iraq to readmit United Nations weapons inspectors. Ministers insisted that MPs would not be allowed to block British involvement in any US-led military action against Saddam. Ben Bradshaw, Deputy Leader of the Commons, said: “No Prime Minister in British history has ever allowed their hands to be tied like that and none would.”
Mr Bradshaw conceded there was an argument that a UN resolution would be needed for a military strike on Iraq. But he added: “There is an argument, for example, that because Saddam is in breach of the ceasefire agreements he entered into at the end of the Gulf War, that that would not be necessary.”
In Washington the battle for control over war planning between the military and civilian top brass intensified, with senior officers questioning the need for an attack given the political risks to the region and the possibility that Saddam would unleash chemical and biological weapons. Furthermore, the current US policy of containment appears to be keeping the dictator at bay.
“I’d argue that containment is certainly a better approach than either marching
on Baghdad or destabilizing the Iraqi Government by killing Saddam,” Colonel Richard
Dunn, a retired Army strategist, told The Washington Post.
The newspaper said that such reservations were shared by members of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But civilian officials of the Bush Administration are pushing for military confrontation. At the weekend officials leaked an intelligence assessment suggesting that Saddam was trying to buy the kind of stainless steel tubing used in gas centrifuges, a central component of a nuclear bomb.
War planning is being coordinated by Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary.
Mr Rumsfeld has demanded options ranging from a full-scale invasion force of up
to 250,000 troops, to a more surgical operation.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd