LONDON, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has gone on a radio offensive against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, telling the Iraqi people in a direct broadcast that their prosperity "would be infinitely greater were Saddam not there."
In an interview with Radio Monte Carlo targeting Baghdad, Blair also described Saddam's regime as "very brutal and oppressive" and reiterated to Iraqi listeners his warning that if their leader does not get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, "the weapons will be disarmed by force."
Radio Monte Carlo, which has broadcasts in French and Arabic, is believed to be the most popular foreign station in Iraq and it has a reputation for even-handedness. It is a branch of Radio France International, which claims it has 15 million Arab listeners in the region.
Blair, whose answers were translated, told his interviewer that "one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today is to communicate with people directly, because what happens in a situation like this is that myths grow up."
One of these myths is that the crisis over Iraq is about oil, an idea that the prime minister described as "absurd. If all we wanted was greater oil supplies, we could probably do a deal with Iraq or any other country on that basis."
The truth, Blair told the Iraqis, is that their nation is "potentially rich" but that Saddam Hussein regime does them "enormous damage. The standard of living of the Iraqi people would be infinitely greater were Saddam not there."
Blair insisted, however, that Britain's immediate objective was "not regime change" but disarmament. "I have got no doubt that Saddam is very bad for Iraq," he said, "but on the other hand I have got no doubt either that the purpose of our challenge from the United Nations is disarmament of weapons of mass destruction."
An advance party of U.N. technicians is travel to Iraq next week to pave the way for full-scale investigations of Baghdad's weapons stockpiles and capability by U.N. inspectors. These are reported to include chemical and biological weapons and a budding program for developing nuclear arms.
Blair said in his broadcast that compliance is up to Saddam "and if he doesn't do it then the consequence is that the weapons will be disarmed by force. ... This is a very, very clear choice."
The reason, he warned, is that "if we allow countries which have got repressive and brutal regimes to develop these weapons (of mass destruction), at some point they will use them, and that is why we have got to take the action."
"I believe we will pay a price if we don't deal with this issue of weapons of mass destruction," Blair said. "We paid a price in the Gulf War, many Iraqi people paid a very heavy price in the Iran-Iraq War, Iraqi people have paid a heavy price when weapons of mass destruction have been used against Iraqi people."
But the British leader insisted that while he and other western leaders such as U.S. President George W. Bush dislike Saddam Hussein, "it is not for us to dictate to people in Iraq and elsewhere how they are governed."
Blair also denied "rumors" that he said were floated by the Baghdad regime, that the western allies intend to install a government from exile into a post-Saddam Iraq. "We have no intention of doing that all," he said. "That is simply not the case."