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Iraq war could be disaster, Blair told.

Byline: Andrew Woodcock

Britain risks being dragged into a 'very, very messy and longlasting Middle East war' if it goes along with American plans for a military assault on Iraq, a former chief of defence staff warned yesterday.

Field Marshal Lord Bramall called on the Government to exercise caution, warning that an invasion to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein may not be morally or legally justified.

He was speaking after President Bush dismissed an offer by Baghdad to hold talks on the possible readmission after four years of United Nations weapons inspectors.

'Nothing's changed,' said Mr Bush. 'I'm a patient man. I'll use all the tools at our disposal.'

US Arms Control Minister John Bolton confirmed at the weekend that 'regime change' in Baghdad remained American policy, whether or not Saddam lets the inspectors back in. Iraq's foreign minister Naji Sabri wrote to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last week inviting the head of the inspection team, Hans Blix, to Baghdad for discussions.

But Mr Blix said there was no point in talks unless Iraq first accepted the return of the inspectors.

London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat yesterday quoted Mr Blix as saying: 'I think they have to say they accept the return of weapons inspectors according to the resolutions of the Security Council. The situation would be much worse if I went to Baghdad and then talks broke down. We don't want that.' Britain and America allege Saddam has revived his nuclear, chemical and biological warfare programmes following the 1998 withdrawal of the inspectors tasked with finding and eliminating them.

But Lord Bramall - Britain's top-ranking member of the armed forces between 1982 and 1985 - said that evidence of any weapons of mass destruction programme remained 'sparse'.

He said 'This is a potentially very dangerous situation in which this country might be swept into a very, very messy and longlasting Middle East war.

'All I ask is that this thing is looked at very, very carefully indeed. We have really got to think the thing through a bit more than has been done now.'

Lord Bramall warned: 'You don't have licence to attack someone else's country just because you don't like the leadership. Nowadays you are supposed to get UN backing for all this. Some lawyers will say you already have that, because Saddam has defied certain UN resolutions, but I think the moral question is not an open-and-shut one. We are supposed to be taking a lead on the moral issues of the world.'

The question of whether an attack could be justified 'does depend on the intelligence', he said, adding: 'That has been remarkably sparse. The Government has been asked to show various things, but as yet they have not done so.'

Earlier this year Tony Blair said a dossier of evidence spelling out the proof of Saddam's attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction would be published, but this has not yet happened.

Labour backbencher George Galloway - a vocal opponent of the war - yesterday travelled to Baghdad for talks with the Iraqi administration.

The Glasgow Kelvin MP accused President Bush and Mr Blair of planning a 'crusader invasion' of the country.

'We have a political dispute with the Iraqi leadership and we have killed one million of their children under sanctions and we are planning a quarter-million man crusader invasion of their country because that particular dictator doesn't obey our orders,' he said. 'That is completely immoral. I think it stinks.'

Labour MP Tam Dalyell, Father of the House of Commons, yesterday called on Mr Blair to recall Parliament in early September over Iraq.

In a letter to Mr Blair, Mr Dalyell, MP for Linlithgow, said: 'In circumstances in which a distinguished Chief of the General Staff draws ominous parallels with Suez and warn of a longlasting Middle East war; in which ten union leaders in a letter to a newspaper express their extreme concern; and in which an increasing number of your own Parliamentary colleagues wonder about the legality of a preemptive strike on Iraq without a fresh UN mandate, do you not have a moral obligation to ask for the recall of Parliament?'

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Lord Bramall
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Comment:Iraq war could be disaster, Blair told.(News)
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Aug 5, 2002
Words:691
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