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19 December 1998

BLAIR SAYS RAMADAN'S START PLAYED A ROLE IN MILITARY PLANNING

(British PM says Arabs support attacks on Saddam's regime) (620)
By William B. Reinckens
USIA Staff Writer

Washington -- Prime Minister Tony Blair, of the United Kingdom, said
that the start of the Muslim sacred holiday of Ramadan was a factor in
the military strategy aimed against the regime of Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein.

"We are immensely sensitive to Ramadan and we have tried to be
sensitive to Muslim sensibilities all the way through the campaign; it
was part of the reason for making sure that we began this campaign
before Ramadan began," said Blair in a BBC interview December 19.

"Our quarrel is not with the Iraqi people, it is with Saddam Hussein
and we have tried everything we can in order to limit the civilian
damage that is done in the course of this campaign," Blair said.

"This is not in any shape or form a campaign against the territorial
integrity of Iraq or the Iraqi people, it is a campaign to contain a
threat that Saddam poses not least to his immediate Arab neighbors,"
Blair added.

Blair cited the recent strong statement issued by the Gulf Cooperation
Council that makes it clear that Arab members hold Saddam Hussein
responsible for any military action against his regime in Iraq.

Blair reminded the BBC interviewer that it was Saddam Hussein who
began the war with Iran, where over a million people were killed
during a protracted eight year conflict known to the international
community as the Iran-Iraq War. The Prime Minister recalled that it
was Saddam who invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and was only convinced to
give it up when Coalition forces defeated Iraq.

"He (Saddam) has taken the most appalling action against his own
people, murdering thousands of them and indeed his whole regime is
geared to repression," said the British Prime Minister.

"I think the Iraqi people know who is responsible for keeping them in
a state of poverty, for depriving them of the oil money that could be
used for buying food and medicine," said Blair, adding that Saddam has
spent $1.2 billion on palaces for himself and supporters of his
regime.

"He's a corrupt leader, he is a leader that represses and terrorizes
his own population and he is somebody that simply cannot be trusted in
any shape or form," Blair said. He added that the present military
operation is aimed at significantly reducing Iraq's military
capability and to reduce the threat he poses to his Arab neighbors.

"We have done tremendous damage to the air defense system, to missile
production," Blair said, noting that Iraq's ability to launch chemical
or biological weapons has been hurt. He said the attacks have also
done "immense damage" to the Special Republican Guard. "We have
carefully tried to limit any civilian damage," said Blair.

"I would treat with a great deal of caution any of the claims that he
(Saddam) is making" regarding civilian casualties, Blair noted. "Let's
be very clear that Saddam is legendary for his ability to distort and
use propaganda. He is showing the pictures that he wants shown."

Blair did not indicate when the air strikes would conclude nor would
he comment on how future UNSCOM inspections in Iraq might proceed in
Iraq. "Saddam has broken every promise he has made to cooperate with
the weapons inspectors," Blair noted.

Blair did say that he supported the idea that Saddam Hussein should be
removed from power. "We cannot guarantee that, we cannot commit
ourselves to that but the truth is, whilst he remains in power
treating his people in the way that he is, he is always a danger."


    

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