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U.S. Sees a Duty to Oust Iraq Leader

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a bid to win support from America’s closest ally, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told Britain on Thursday that the outside world has a historic obligation to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or face inevitable global “havoc” perpetrated by his regime.

In a radio interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., she invoked the imagery--and the stakes--of the World War II alliance in imploring Britain for its support.

“History is littered with cases of inaction that led to grave consequences for the world. We just have to look back and ask how many dictators who ended up being a tremendous global threat and killing thousands and, indeed, millions of people should we have stopped in their tracks,” Rice said in the interview, which was broadcast Thursday.

As the Bush administration intensifies its rhetorical campaign for moving against Iraq, Britain is arguably the pivotal foreign audience.

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Britain has been the only country from the 1991 Persian Gulf War coalition of more than 30 nations to remain steadfast in its collaboration with Washington, but it has been notably cool to a new confrontation with Iraq.

“We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing,” Rice said, adding that the United States has a “very powerful moral case” to justify action.

Left to his own devices, Hussein will “wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, all of us,” Rice said.

On Thursday, Britain again launched its aircraft alongside U.S. warplanes in strikes in Iraq’s southern “no-fly” zone, established after the Gulf War to protect the local population from air attacks by Hussein’s military.

But polls show that the British public remains deeply reluctant to get any more deeply enmeshed in Iraq.

Rice’s appeal for support came as a prominent member of Britain’s ruling Labor Party warned that Prime Minister Tony Blair faces “substantial resistance” among his own ranks in Parliament to a U.S.-led offensive against Iraq.

“Blair would find it difficult to support and participate in a war against Iraq,” said Gerald Kaufman, a member of Parliament who has served as the party’s foreign policy spokesman.

The only support for an offensive comes from the opposition Conservative Party, he noted.

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Kaufman charged that Bush was “intellectually backward” and said the president was surrounded by advisors “whose bellicosity is exceeded only by their political, military and diplomatic illiteracy.” He made his remarks in Britain’s Spectator magazine.

Without either Britain’s tacit approval or its involvement, Washington is unlikely to win backing from other key allies or the three other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council--China, France and Russia.

Even members of the administration during the Gulf War are skittish.

Brent Scowcroft, who held Rice’s job during that conflict, noted in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal: “Our preeminent security priority--underscored repeatedly by the president--is the war on terrorism. An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.”

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But in another sign that the Bush administration is pushing ahead with its plans, the State Department revealed Thursday that it expects to sign contracts worth $6.6 million with private groups to provide health, education and other humanitarian services for Iraqis inside and outside their country.

“I would think that at the end of any action that we might take toward regime change, it would be an obligation for all of us to make certain that things are better for the people of the country and the people of the region,” Rice told the BBC.

The interview was aired as Iraq’s ruling Revolutionary Command Council nominated Hussein, who has been president since 1979, for another term.

The council said Thursday that Hussein provided “a strong guarantee” against “imperialist and Zionists’ plots.”

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Iraq’s 250-member National Assembly, which is tightly controlled by Hussein’s Arab Baath Socialist Party, is expected to endorse the nomination, and a referendum to formally renew his mandate is set for Oct. 15, according to the official Iraqi News Agency.

The Iraqi leadership said Thursday that it is “open for dialogue” with the United Nations on weapons inspections--despite comments by a Cabinet minister this week ruling out the prospect of further negotiations or inspections.

“We believe dialogue without preset decisions and intentions is the correct and only way to solve any problem,” said Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

“Another date for the next round has not been set due to U.S. pressure, but we say that this dialogue is still standing and necessary,” he told Abu Dhabi television.

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Ramadan also said Baghdad was willing to talk directly to Washington.

But U.S. officials say Hussein’s regime acts as if it is an equal partner in any talks, rather than the vanquished party in a military rout.

“I do not think we have ever rejected direct dialogue with the U.S. administration--[provided] that there are no terms,” Ramadan said.

“We want a dialogue in which each of us respects the opinion of the other and does not interfere in internal affairs.”

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