Britain Declares: We're Ready to Go; Saddam Tried to Buy Equipment to Launch Gas Attacks, Says Whitehall

Daily Mail (London), February 17, 1998 | Go to article overview

Britain Declares: We're Ready to Go; Saddam Tried to Buy Equipment to Launch Gas Attacks, Says Whitehall


Byline: JOHN DEANS

BRITAIN'S Gulf forces are ready to go with air strikes against Iraq, defence chiefs said yesterday.

RAF Tornado bombers and Harrier jump jet squadrons could launch raids at any time if 11th hour attempts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis fail this week, it was announced in Whitehall.

'We are ready to go now,' one high-ranking source declared just hours after American defence chiefs made clear that their massive firepower is also on standby.

A last-ditch diplomatic effort by the United Nations was put on hold last night.

Key Security Council members said they needed more time to agree on diplomatic proposals before UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan could fly to Baghdad to thrash out an agreement on access for weapons inspection teams.

They will meet again today.

France, Russia, China and Arab leaders have been pushing for the mission, but Britain and the U.S.

fear the initiative could strengthen Saddam's hand in demanding a compromise.

If Mr Annan emerges with an agreement which commands support in the Arab world and at the UN, Britain and the U.S. could be isolated and forced to strike without international support.

One UN official said: 'Ninety-nine per cent of the world wants him to go to Baghdad. One or two important countries do not.' As the war of words continued yesterday and Britain released aerial photographs of Saddam's so-called presidential palaces, Whitehall intelligence sources revealed that the Baghdad dictator has been trying to buy up crop-spraying equipment with which to launch anthrax and mustard gas attacks on his enemies.

Iraqi agents have been sent abroad in an apparently unsuccessful attempt to purchase crop-dusting aircraft which could be deployed to release the deadly germ warfare weapons into the atmosphere. Iraq recently tested a remotely-piloted, radio-controlled Czech Mil-8 crop-spraying plane that crashed, according to intelligence sources. 'If Saddam had one he could well have others hidden,' said an intelligence official.

'The most efficient way of distributing chemical and biological weapons is by spraying over a target. This plane could have flown all the way to Riyadh.' Whitehall is also concerned that Saddam has examined plans to send terrorist suicide teams into enemy countries armed with lethal gas sprays.

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