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Blair Warns Iraq’s Weapons Program Is Growing

Blair’s statements coincide with his office’s release of a 50-page statement detailing a burgeoning weapons program in Iraq — a program Blair says flies in the face of United Nations sanctions.

“It [the British dossier] concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons,” Blair said, “that he [Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein] has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes … and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.”

Citing the work of United Nations weapons inspectors, Blair said his government believed there were up to “360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agents, including one and a half tonnes of VX nerve agent; up to 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals; growth media sufficient to produce 26,000 litres of anthrax spores; and over 30,000 special munitions for delivery of chemical and biological agents.”

The British dossier also accuses the Iraqi leader of “a long term programme of persecution of the Iraqi Kurds, including through the use of chemical weapons.” The document says Saddam “uses patronage and violence to motivate his supporters and to control or eliminate opposition,” and accuses the Iraqi leader of practicing “torture, execution and other forms of coercion against his enemies, real or suspected.”

According to the British dossier, the Iraqi weapons program is funded through alleged illegal earnings that topped $3 billion last year. The document says Iraq uses the money for construction and luxury items as well as military and weapons programs, and says the British government is unsure how much of the money goes directly to amassing weapons of mass destruction.

Although Blair did not directly advocate military action in Iraq, he did push for continuing international pressure to force Iraq to disarm.

“Our case is simply this: not that we take military action, come what may; but that the case for ensuring Iraqi disarmament is overwhelming,” Blair said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Blair’s presentation was “very bold,” and said the dossier was “frightening in terms of Iraq’s intentions and abilities to acquire weapons.”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri blasted the dossier, saying the British intelligence report “aims to justify the unjustifiable … the aggressive intentions against Iraq.”

“[Blair] said that he would announce evidence, but this is just scaremongering, exaggeration and lies,” Reuters quoted Sabri as saying.

Later, Amir al-Saadi, an Iraqi presidential adviser, told a news conference that U.N. weapons inspectors would have “unfettered access and wherever they want to go.” Al-Saadi also said Blair should pass his country’s report to U.N. weapons inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency for verification.

Meanwhile, Blair has faced criticism in his own country for Britain’s support of the U.S. stance on Iraq. More than 160 members of Britain’s 659-person parliament have signed a motion expressing “deep unease” about Britain’s support of possible military strikes against Saddam Hussein, especially if the U.N. does not sanction such a strike.

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