Blair under fire over support for bombing

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR last night was under fire from all sides for supporting President Bill Clinton in Operation Desert Fox without a clearly laid set of political objectives to be achieved by the bombing in Iraq.

The "success" claimed by Mr Blair when he announced the ending of the bombing on Saturday was turning into a public relations fiasco as RAF pilots, a Labour peer, and the Tories criticised the campaign.

Downing Street responded with claims that the bombing had been targeted at sites including the presidential bunker in Baghdad to fuel Saddam Hussein's fears of a coup. "The specific thinking behind these targets is to build on to the fears that Saddam has of a coup by his own officers," said the Prime Minister's official spokesman.

But Lord Healey, the former Chancellor, said the diplomatic mission should have started before the bombing.

"What they have done is very dangerous to the Western position in the Middle East because it strengthens all the extremist groups who want to overthrow all the regimes which have been friendly to us.

"We are seen very much as Mr Clinton's poodle," Lord Healey said on Radio Five Live.

Downing Street said RAF pilots who said they were "gutted" at being ordered to call off their last raid could not see the "full picture". With all the RAF crews back safely in Kuwait,the Tories ended the cross-party support for the air strikes and demanded to know what the point of them had been.

William Hague, the Tory leader, last night said Saddam should not just be "kept in his cage but knocked off his perch".

In Baghdad, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said the strikes had killed 62 military personnel. He added that the attacks had ended UN arms inspections. The attacks "killed Unscom" he said, referring to the UN weapons inspectors.

Saddam breathes easy, page 5

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