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Saddam tried to buy uranium, Brits charge

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Saddam tried to buy uranium, Brits charge


Iraq has military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, and has tried to acquire “significant quantities” of uranium from Africa, Britain said Tuesday in a dossier of evidence about Iraq’s development of weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons are ready to be used within 45 minutes of an order to fight, the dossier said.

"Unless we face up to the threat, not only do we risk undermining the authority of the U.N., whose resolutions he defies, but more importantly and in the longer term, we place at risk the lives and prosperity of our own people,” Prime Minister Tony Blair said in an introduction to the 50-page report.

The document, released hours before Parliament convened in a special session to debate possible military action against Iraq, argues that Saddam continues to develop chemical and biological weapons, is trying to acquire nuclear weapons and has extended the range of its ballistic missiles.

Iraq rejected the British analysis.

“The British prime minister is serving the campaign of lies led by Zionists against Iraq. Blair is part of this misleading campaign,” Iraqi Culture Minister Hammed Youssef Hammadi told reporters at the opening of a painting exhibition in Baghdad.

Blair is President Bush’s closest European ally, but faces dissent among lawmakers in his governing Labor Party and a reported rift in his Cabinet over an Iraqi war. Commentators said the document was published in an effort to shore up domestic support for possible military action against Iraq.

Addressing a packed House of Commons Tuesday, Blair said Saddam risked “war, international ostracism, sanctions and the isolation of the Iraqi economy” to keep his weapons program.

“His weapons of mass destruction program is active, detailed and growing,” said Blair.

Blair faced hard questioning, and Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, urged Britain and the United States to work through the United Nations.

"For those of us who have never subscribed to British unilaterism, we are not about to sign up to American unilateralism now either,” Kennedy said.

Blair repeatedly said it was important to get U.N. backing, but did not shy from the possibility of military action to back up demands for resumed inspections.

“The one thing I am sure of is that there is no prospect of a proper weapons inspection regime going back in there and doing its job properly unless Saddam knows that the alternative to that is that he is forced to comply with the U.N. will,” Blair said.

When a lawmaker asked whether Blair supported “regime change” without U.N. authorization, Blair responded: “The one thing I find odd are people who can find the notion of regime change in Iraq somehow distasteful.”

But left-wing lawmakers said the government had provided little new information.

“Tony Blair will have to do better than this if he wants to convince the British public to go to war,” said Labor lawmaker Diane Abbott.

Within minutes of the release of the dossier, anti-war protesters outside Parliament began blasting John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”

A poll in Tuesday’s Guardian newspaper said 86 percent of Britons believe the government should seek the support of the British Parliament and the United Nations before taking military action against Iraq.

The report said Saddam attaches great importance to weapons of mass destruction as the basis of Iraq’s regional power.

The dossier provided a highly detailed history of Iraq’s weapons program and an assessment of its current capabilities based on British and allied intelligence.

However, there appeared to be little new information in the report. Analysts have been warning for years that Saddam has continued to develop chemical and biological weapons and has also tried to develop nuclear weapons, although with little sign of success.

Maj. Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies, said the report “does not produce any convincing evidence, or any killer fact, that says that Saddam Hussein has to be taken out straight away.”

“What it does do is produce very convincing evidence that the weapons inspectors have to be pushed back into Iraq very quickly,” Heyman said.

A report published this month by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said Iraq retains substantial chemical and biological weapons and could assemble a nuclear weapon within months if it obtained radioactive material.

The government’s dossier rejected Iraqi claims that its biological weapons were destroyed, saying Baghdad may retain huge stocks of anthrax and could deliver chemical and biological agents using free-fall bombs, rockets, helicopter and aircraft borne sprayers and ballistic missiles. Iraq now has mobile laboratories for developing biological warfare agents, the report said.

The dossier said Baghdad tried to acquire significant quantities of uranium from Africa and has covertly tried to acquire technology and materials for the production of nuclear weapons.

If U.N. sanctions against Iraq were lifted, Saddam could develop a nuclear weapon within 12 months to two years, said the dossier.

Iraq has retained up to 20 al-Hussein missiles with a range of 400 miles, capable of carrying chemical or biological warheads, and is working to increase the range of other missiles, the report said.

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