Britain has strongly advised the United States against attacking Iraq, warning
that it risked intensifying the conflicts in Afghanistan, Israel and Kashmir,
senior defense and diplomatic sources say.
In a sign of deepening discord between the two allies, British ministers and
officials in Whitehall believe that a new war would "contaminate" the other crises."These
are issues the Americans appear not to have considered," said one official.
They also have grave reservations about President George Bush's demand for
a "regime change" in Baghdad because, London believes, no alternative regime has
been identified for such a change to take place. Britain may be lumbered with
leading a massive stabilization force for "up to five years" in an anarchic post-war
Iraq, with the prospect of the country being partitioned.
While Britain is certain that Saddam Hussein has acquired some form of chemical
and biological weapons capacity since the United Nations weapons inspectors were
expelled from Iraq, ministers have seen no evidence that he can use them in any
meaningful way against the West.
America has countered the British worries by maintaining that each conflict
in the region can be contained and that it is impractical to wait for every issue
to be resolved before taking action against President Saddam, according to the
But while the reservations of Britain, perceived as America's staunchest ally
in its "war on terrorism", have prompted some soul-searching among the Pentagon
hawks, they have struck a chord at the State Department, where Colin Powell, the
Secretary of State, is known to be more cautious about attacking Iraq.
Britain's misgivings emerged yesterday as President Saddam appeared on television
to speak out against an invasion. The Iraqi leader's rare public appearance in
a gray suit rather than a military uniform, and at a desk spread with white lilies,
was calculated to rally international opinion against an American-led assault.
President Saddam declared that any attack by the "forces of evil" Iraqi
terminology for the US and Britain would result in them "carrying their
coffins back to die in disgraceful failure".
The Iraqi leader also used his speech to offer an olive branch to Iran, a
country named by President Bush as part of the "axis of evil", along with Iraq
and North Korea. In Tehran, the Iranian Defense Minister said his country may
be next in line for a US onslaught after Iraq. Ali Shamkhani said: "Iran will
retaliate in the severest manner against any aggression against its soil, in whatever
form and by whoever."
The Bush administration dismissed President Saddam's speech as irrelevant
"bluster" and containing nothing new. A spokesman said: "He made commitments at
the end of the Gulf War to the international community to disarm, to cease being
a threat to his neighbors, the region and the world. He needs to live up to his
Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, said the speech by President Saddam
did not "give an inch" on the return of weapons inspectors to Baghdad. The Iraqi
leader said he sought an "equitable dialogue" with the UN, but Mr Annan said his
statements didn't show "any flexibility from their previous position". Asked if
the speech gave any cause for optimism, Mr Annan said: "Not at this stage, not
unless there are unforeseen developments."
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd