TERRY DIGNAN: The spectre of war looms
again over the Middle East. The armed forces of the United States are on
the move. Eleven years ago America and her allies called a halt once the
Iraqis had been ejected from Kuwait. This time they may go all the way
- to Baghdad - with British troops risking their lives alongside them.
Over Kosovo and Afghanistan
Tony Blair didn't flinch from deploying our troops in support of what he
regarded as just causes. But Iraq is a bigger test. Many Labour members
and voters along with much of the European Union and Arab and Muslim worlds,
oppose United States' plans to go to war with Saddam Hussain. Mr Blair,
though, remains determined to stand alongside President George Bush even
at the risk of splitting his party and isolating Britain internationally.
MALCOLM SAVIDGE MP: There's a danger that Britain
could be colluding in policies that I think the vast majority of people
in Britain would feel very worried - might be dangerous and even evil policies.
And I'm thinking of policies like pre-emptive, pre-emptive wars against
countries who have not attacked us.
ERIC JOYCE MP; I think we have to have
resolve and if military action's what's required or at least a threat at
this stage of military action, and I think it is required - that threat
- then I think we should follow through with the threat.
DIGNAN; Ministers and civil servants
within Whitehall have been co-ordinating Britain's response to the Iraq
crisis. They have been compiling evidence for a dossier which is meant
to support American claims that Saddam has the potential to use weapons
of mass destruction. Tony Blair will present it to cabinet tomorrow and
MPs on Tuesday. It's aimed at those who believe the Iraqi leader is no
more of a threat today than he has been at any time in recent years.
DOUG HENDERSON: I don't think there's any greater
threat from Saddam Hussein today than there was four years ago - it's just
that the international political situation's changed in the aftermath of
September last year and that the Americans are much more gung-ho.
DIGNAN: Hostility to military action
stretches beyond those who routinely criticise Tony Blair. More than a
hundred and thirty Labour MPs have signed a motion expressing deep unease
at possible British government support for war against Iraq. They want
the UN to find a solution. Even two cabinet members, Claire Short and Robin
Cook, are said to share these sentiments.
SAVIDGE: I think it's very important
to recognise that concern in Parliament spreads right across the Parliamentary
Labour Party - it's not just the usual suspects or the people who in the
past opposed military action, it's people like myself who have supported
previous military action.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I welcome the prime minister
back to Camp David ........
DIGNAN: At meetings with Bush,
Blair has argued for UN support for military action. Iraq has reacted by
allowing back UN weapons inspectors - an offer scorned by Blair and Bush,
understandably say some former inspectors.
TIM TREVAN: Generally speaking, Iraq was
happy to make inspectors look foolish. So if they knew that a site had
nothing then they would happily allow the inspectors to enter. If they
knew the site was something which would embarrass the inspectors, they
were even more happy to let them go in. For example, if the inspectors
turned up at a place which turned out to be a chicken farm because of some
error of map reading or a nursery school or something like that, but on
the other hand, if the inspectors got close to a site which actually contains
something they were trying to hide, then they would block physically the
inspectors from entering.
DIGNAN; So, the Americans fear
that UN inspectors would again be obstructed. Plans for a war against Saddam
would have to be put on hold. And that worries Washington because if there
is to be an attack on Iraq, the Administration may want it launched before
the summer heat returns to the Middle East.
DR ROSEMARY HOLLIS: Time is the problem, the American
timetable requires that if they are going to war they have to do it before
the weather changes and that means doing it in the early New Year. They
anticipate that the armed forces are going to have to equip for the potential
use of biological and chemical weaponry. That is not a possibility in the
middle of summer, and as soon as you get off the timetable, the political
timetable of this year, you get into the run-up to the next presidential
elections. So I believe that the hawks in Washington see this year as the
optimum year to press home their quest for regime change in Baghdad.
DIGNAN: Bush, backed by Blair,
has responded to Saddam's offer by calling on the UN Security Council to
set tough new conditions for the return of weapons inspectors. They should
go anywhere they want including Saddam's presidential palaces and there'd
be no room for negotiation. The Iraqis would face an ultimatum - co-operate
or the countdown to war commences. But this weekend Saddam has vowed to
defy any new UN resolution whose terms he says have been dictated by the
HOLLIS: The Iraqi government would
have to be feeling very desperate and frightened indeed to change its habitual
attitude on this issue of weapons inspectors so completely that they could
go anywhere in the country that they wanted, they could investigate any
site that they wanted, with or without notice and so on.
JOYCE; Saddam Hussein has ignored
all the resolutions passed up till now; he is a well known liar and murderer
and there's no reason we should accept his word at this stage, in fact
there's every reason we should not and back it up with a clear, concrete
statement of the resolve of the international community so I think it has
to be toughly worded and we have to be prepared to back it up swiftly with
DIGNAN: So far only two of the
five permanent members of the UN security council - the US and UK - want
to threaten Saddam with dire consequences if he doesn't co-operate. France,
Russia and China have yet to be won over. But the Americans warn they'll
block the return of the inspectors unless the threat of force is held in
TREVAN: The inspections don't have
much hope of success unless Iraq believes there are serious consequences
of not complying with the inspections. Clearly Russia, China and France
are very reluctant to mention the military threat so you're sending in
inspectors without the military threat behind them, which means that Iraq
is very unlikely to do anything beyond the minimal to allow them to come
into the country and wander around and make fools of themselves.
DIGNAN: In 1991 George Bush senior
had United Nations' backing for a war against Iraq. His son is warning
that he may take on Saddam regardless of the UN. That's what many Labour
MPs fear. Even worse from their point of view is their worry that Tony
Blair will ignore international opinion, commit Britain's armed forces
to the conflict and cause a split in his party.
HENDERSON: I think if Britain gives unconditional
backing to the US it weakens our position as a broker between for instance
European Union countries and the United States. It puts our own Prime Minister
on the spot if on the one hand he's saying to the UN you must try and build
a coalition, you must look at the question of inspections and at the same
time he's saying well if you don't, we're going to go ahead anyway.
JOYCE; When I look back and I think
about Kosovo, I don't accept that it is absolutely essential that the UN
give its full OK, I think at the end of the day what we need to do is to
remove this threat and if it has to be done without the UN, the full UN
backing, then so be it.
DIGNAN: The prospect of the US
deciding unilaterally to go to war may leave the UN looking weak, marginalised
and humiliated. It's argued that many member-states are so appalled at
the thought that they may decide to give America their backing. In theory
this should make it easier for Tony Blair to win round those Labour MPs
who say that without UN approval, war against Iraq is unacceptable.
HOLLIS: They've been playing a
game of bluff by threatening to go it alone if they don't get the necessary
co-operation, that does corner the UN, they need to legitimise whatever
the Americans do, otherwise it vindicates the idea that power might is
SAVIDGE: I think it is very worrying
to me that there are clearly a number of members of the Bush Administration
who want war almost whatever happens, irrespective of inspections, irrespective
of disarmament, they wish just to go for a regime change, and I don't want
to see the United Nations simply used as a cover for pursuing a belligerent
militaristic objective which is driven by the ideology of the US hard right.
DIGNAN: But in Whitehall the plan
appears to be to support Bush's strategy. That's what many Labour MPs believe.
Which means Britain may be heading for war - with or without UN approval.
It's a gamble - perhaps the severest test yet of the prime minister's leadership
SAVIDGE: Before we start talking
about the possible sacrifice of civilian lives or the lives of our armed
forces, we should be very careful about saying that we're prepared to pay
a blood price for the special relationship between our Prime Minister and
this particular President.
JOYCE: It does cause unease amongst
some people within the Labour Party and elsewhere, but we have to be careful
we don't define our response simply because the Americans are involved.
Some people seem not to like our response to the Iraq problem simply because
we're on the same side as the Americans.
DIGNAN: Not so long from now our
screens may again be filled with images of war. Tony Blair believes the
use of force may ultimately be the only way of ensuring that Saddam Hussain
is prevented from developing and unleashing chemical, biological and nuclear
weapons. Proving this to his Cabinet and to his MPs this week will be a