Iraq Crisis: `We gave Saddam one last chance. He abused it'

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The Independent Online
THIS IS the edited text of President Bill Clinton's address from the Oval Office of the White House last night:

"Good evening. Earlier today, I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes and its military capacity to threaten its neighbours.

"Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world. Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbours or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.

I want to explain why I have decided, with the unanimous recommendation of my national security team, to use force in Iraq; why we have acted now; and what we aim to accomplish.

Six weeks ago, Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer co-operate with the United Nations weapons inspectors called Unscom. Their job is to oversee the elimination of Iraq's capability to retain, create and use weapons of mass destruction, and to verify that Iraq does not attempt to rebuild that capability.

The international community had good reason to set this requirement. Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: He has used them. Not once, but repeatedly not only against soldiers ... but against civilians; firing Scud missiles at the citizens of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iran; and not only against a foreign enemy, but even against his own people, gassing Kurdish civilians in Northern Iraq.

The international community had little doubt then, and I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.

Faced with Saddam's latest act of defiance in late October, we built intensive diplomatic pressure on Iraq backed by overwhelming military force in the region. The UN Security Council voted 15 to zero to condemn Saddam's actions and to demand that he immediately come into compliance.

When Saddam still failed to comply, we prepared to act militarily. It was only then at the last possible moment that Iraq backed down.

Now over the past three weeks, the UN weapons inspectors have carried out their plan for testing Iraq's cooperation. The testing period ended this weekend, and last night, Unscom's chairman, Richard Butler, reported the results to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The conclusions are stark, sobering and profoundly disturbing.

In four out of the five categories set forth, Iraq has failed to co- operate. Indeed, it actually has placed new restrictions on the inspectors.

So Iraq has abused its final chance. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, Saddam has disarmed the inspectors.

This situation presents a clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume co-operation with the weapons inspectors. Saddam has failed to seize the chance.

And so we had to act and act now. If Saddam can crippled the weapons inspection system and get away with it, he ... will surmise that he has free rein to rebuild his arsenal of destruction. That is why, on the unanimous recommendation of my national security team, I have ordered a strong, sustained series of air strikes against Iraq.

At the same time, we are delivering a powerful message to Saddam. If you act recklessly, you will pay a heavy price.

We acted today because, in the judgment of my military advisers, a swift response would provide the most surprise and the least opportunity for Saddam to prepare. If we had delayed for even a matter of days from Chairman Butler's report, we would have given Saddam more time to disperse his forces and protect his weapons.

Also, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins this weekend. For us to initiate military action during Ramadan would be profoundly offensive to the Muslim world.

Finally, our allies, including Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, concurred that now is the time to strike.

May God bless and protect the brave men and women who are carrying out this vital mission and their families. And may God bless America."

Clinton's Main Points

The purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world.

Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.

Iraq has failed to co-operate. Indeed, it actually has placed new restrictions on the inspectors.

Saddam's deception has defeated the inspectors' effectiveness. Instead of them disarming Saddam, Saddam has disarmed them.

We acted now as to initiate military action during Ramadan, which begins this weekend, would be profoundly offensive to the Muslim world.

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