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Blair war regardless { January 26 2003 }

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Blair: war can start without UN arms find

Last chance for Saddam to aid weapons team

Kamal Ahmed and Peter Beaumont, London, Ed Vulliamy in Washington and Suzanne Goldenberg in Baghdad
Sunday January 26, 2003
The Observer

Tony Blair has raised the temperature in the confrontation with Iraq by insisting there is no need for United Nations weapons inspectors to find a 'smoking gun' for Saddam Hussein to be in breach of UN resolutions and face military action.
Downing Street sources made it clear last night that although there would be a 'short pause' in preparations for war while the inspectors are given 'a few more weeks' to try to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Saddam's failure to co-operate pro-actively with the team will provide a pretext for attack.

As it became increasingly clear that Saddam now believes war is inevitable, Washington sources said the inspectors were now 'on a very short leash'.

Whitehall officials said they are increasingly resigned to the fact that Hans Blix, the head of the Unmovic inspections team, would fail to uncover significant evidence of nuclear, biological or nuclear weapons.

'Of course it would be far better if he did,' said one Number 10 insider. 'We realise they have to be given more time to see what they can do. That is an imperative for the public debate here and the wider diplomatic world.

'We know the stuff is there. Whether the UN team can find it is a different matter.'

The official said the Prime Minister knew a stronger case must be made for action against Iraq if public opinion was to swing behind it.He would now start making the case that an 'incremental breach' is enough to trigger action if Saddam does not disarm.

'An absence of co-operation and a pattern of obstruction does constitute a breach,' said another Downing Street official. 'As each day goes by and he doesn't satisfactorily answer these question [on weapons of mass destruction] then it becomes clear that we may not need a smoking gun - but we know there is the whiff of cordite.'

Blair will insist Saddam has done nothing to account for tons of munitions and biological and chemical weapons which previous UN weapons inspectors said were unaccounted for in the Nineties.

It will be argued that there are still 11 key questions unanswered from the Iraq's widely-criticised weapons declaration which have already been outlined to Iraqi officials. Other issues include a lack of unfettered access for interviews with Iraqi scientists who, US officials claim, have been threatened with death if they co-operate with the UN, and Saddam's refusal of permission for flights over Iraq by U2 spy planes.

Blair had a 30 minute phone conversation with George Bush on Friday night in which the President agreed to press for more time for the inspections..

Blix is expected to express frustration in his report to the UN Security Council tomorrow that Saddam has not been more helpful.

In an interview with The Observer , Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said tomorrow's report was not a deadline but that Saddam could not expect the inspectors to continue searching indefinitely. 'Evidence is mounting that Saddam Hussein's policy is not to comply but to conceal. If the deceit and delays continue Iraq will, to quote UN resolution 1441, have to face serious consequences.'

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, also kept up the military rhetoric: 'The burden is upon Iraq. Iraq must comply, or it will be made to comply with force.'

Powell said no decision on the use of force would be made on military action before Bush meets Blair on Friday at Camp David.

Blair is still fighting against the weight of UK public opinion. A poll in today's Sunday Times revealed that 68 per cent of people feel Blair has failed to convince them Iraq poses a significant threat that justified military action.

In an article in today's Observer , Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, says the Prime Minister is in danger of acting too quickly and without UN authority: 'I see no contradiction between abhorrence of his leadership and the profound anxiety many people in this country feel about the way in which the Americans - with Tony Blair's support - are proposing an invasion,'

In Baghdad it is becoming clear that Saddam believes war is almost inevitable.

In a highly unusual interview with a small group of journalists, one of his closest confidantes said that Iraq had exhausted all the measures at its disposal to avoid a conflict, and the decision to go to war.

'One tends to think it is coming no matter what we do. We insulated ourselves that war is never coming. We must do everything in our power not to give them an excuse,' General Amer Saadi, said.

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