Published September 4, 2002
LONDON - In a sign of the political battle to precede any military strike against Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday encountered resistance at home and among European neighbors to his call for ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
A day after Blair declared support for the Bush administration's campaign against Hussein, the reaction in Britain was decidedly mixed. Voters and leaders of Blair's own center-left Labor Party expressed misgivings about the prime minister's willingness to use force against Hussein.
Britain remains the closest U.S. ally, but even here polls show considerable opposition to Washington's war talk. And that sentiment is widespread throughout Europe: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder responded to Blair's speech with a sharp rebuff yesterday. Schroeder's opposition to the Bush policy on Iraq has been a centerpiece of his campaign for re-election in Germany.
Debate in Britain yesterday centered on Blair's promise to make the case against Iraq by presenting a dossier of evidence to support the claim that Hussein's regime is developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Critics predicted that the dossier would not produce compelling new arguments to prove Blair's assertion that Hussein poses "a real and unique threat" to world security.
"I have my doubts that hard evidence will be produced in time to allay the great fears that people have in this country of delivering action against Saddam Hussein," said Ian Gibson, a Labor Party member of Parliament.
Polls have consistently shown a reluctance in Britain to engage in a military campaign against Iraq. A survey by the Guardian newspaper last month, for example, showed 52 percent of respondents opposed to using British forces in such an attack. However, a poll taken yesterday by GMTV, a commercial station, showed 65 percent of respondents would favor a war - if evidence showed Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction.