U.K.'s Blair: No march for Saddam victims

Feb. 15, 2003 at 8:56 AM

LONDON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- In an impassioned appeal to Saturday's demonstrators worldwide against war with Iraq, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said removing Saddam from power would be an "act of humanity."

Meanwhile, he added, there is no march under way for Iraq's victims.

In a speech to a Labour Party conference, Blair said he respects the demonstrators' good intentions, but said that leaving Saddam Hussein in power would allow more misery and death for Iraqis.

Demonstrations in 300 cities worldwide, expected to attract millions Saturday, reflect a "hatred of war" and he said he also hated war. Making a case for the morality of ousting Saddam, however, Blair said that his "weapons are real."

"Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity," Blair said. "It is leaving him there that is inhumane."

That, he continued, "is why I do not shrink from military action should that indeed be necessary." If it is necessary, "We should be as committed to the humanitarian task of rebuilding Iraq for the Iraqi people as we have been for removing Saddam."

Blair also linked Iraq's stability to a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, drawing applause from the mostly supportive crowd of party faithful. "There will be no stability in the Middle East until there is a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on a secure Israel and a viable Palestinian state," he said.

"Many of the people marching today will say that they hate Saddam," Blair said, "but the consequence of taking their advice is that he would stay in charge of Iraq, ruling the Iraqi people."

"There will be no march for the victims of Saddam, no protests about the thousands of children that die needlessly every year under his rule," Blair said, "no righteous anger over the torture chambers which if he is left in power are left in being."

Although he said he rejoices "we live in a country where peaceful protest is a natural part of our democratic heritage," Blair went on to challenge their aims and acknowledge his position on war with Iraq was not the popular one.

"I simply ask the marchers, however well intentioned, to understand this," Blair said. "I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor, but sometimes it is the price of leadership and the cost of conviction."

"If there are 500,000 on that march, that is still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam has been responsible for," Blair said. "If there are 1 million, that is still less than the number of people that died in the wars that he started."

The year before Saddam took power, Iraq was richer than Malaysia or Portugal, Blair said, but now 135 "out of every 1,000 Iraqi children die before the age of five" from infections that are easily preventable.

"Every year and now," he said, "tens of thousands of people -- political prisoners -- languish in appalling conditions in Saddam's jails and are brutally executed."

"This isn't a regime with weapons of mass destruction that is otherwise benign," Blair said. "This is a regime that contravenes every value, every principle decent people and people in our movement should believe in."

"Why is it now," Blair said, after reading from a letter from an Iraqi exile critical of America but more critical of Saddam, "that you deem it appropriate to voice your disillusions with America's policy in Iraq, when it is right now that the Iraqi people are being given real hope -- however slight, however precarious -- so they can live in an Iraq that is free from its horrors?"

Blair said Kosovo, despite warnings "would destabilize the whole of the Balkans, now "has the best chance of peace in 100 years."

In Afghanistan, Blair said, there are 3 million children in schools, thanks to action, not inaction."

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