Bombs aim to topple dictator

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THE BRITISH and United States governments yesterday gave the strongest indications yet that the ultimate aim of the military operations against Iraq was the removal of Saddam Hussein.

Officials in Washington and London said air strikes had targeted key divisions of the Republican Guard, Saddam's elite military units, in attempts to kill thousands in their barracks and encourage a revolt.

Leaflets dropped on Iraqi forces in the south of the country also make the point that air strikes are aimed only at units loyal to the regime.

In London, in a parallel call for mutiny, George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence, said: "The Republican Guards are the lynchpin of Saddam's regime. If they ceased to support Saddam, his whole brutal regime would be under immediate threat."

Ministry of Defence figures show that 18 attacks in the first two nights of Operation Desert Fox were aimed at Republican Guard targets.

Even the attack on the oil refinery at Basra, in the south of the country, was justified because oil smuggled from the plant - in defiance of UN sanctions - was being sold to finance the Guards. Mr Robertson said: "The Iraqi people can spare themselves a lot of the Saddam-inflicted misery by taking action and removing him."

He also revealed the most recent assassination attempt against the dictator came "only a couple of weeks ago".

Among Guard targets confirmed yesterday were barracks at Al Kut and Muhamed Al Amin. Initial reports suggested 75 per cent of the attacks were successful. General Sir Charles Guthrie, chief of the defence staff, said bombers have wiped out many of the sites barred to UN weapons inspectors.

Mr Robertson stressed that the Government was sensitive to the Muslim festival of Ramadan, which started yesterday, but added: "We will stop when we know our objectives have been achieved."

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, has released a dossier on human rights violations by Iraq, describing the systematic use of torture by Saddam against the people who opposed him.

Mr Cook told reporters that when Saddam finally goes, and more evidence of his regime's excesses became known, "the world will ask why it was they were in any doubt, or why they had any hesitation about standing up to him".