Britain Denies it Wants to Stop Bombing Southern Iraq
The British government denied a report Monday that it would ask the incoming US president to halt the near-daily bombing of southern Iraq, thus reversing a decade-old policy.
"It is wrong," Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman commented on the report in Monday's Guardian newspaper. "The point on Iraq is that there is no change in policy."
The paper had said US-British policy was under review in light of George W. Bush's impending arrival in the White House. He takes office on January 20.
It gave no sources for the proposal but pointed to civilian casualties that have resulted from the patrolling by British and US warplanes of no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime says that the attacks, said by London and Washington to be aimed at Iraqi air defenses challenging the patrols, have killed more than 300 civilians and left 1,000 wounded in the last two years.
"We are determined to contain Saddam's regime to prevent him from posing a threat to his neighbors" and developing weapons of mass destruction, Blair's spokesman said.
"We believe that constant vigilance is necessary so they know they have to cooperate with the UN."
The no-fly zones above Iraq -- it has been under sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait -- are not backed by UN Security Council resolutions.
According to the Guardian, Britain fears public concern over the casualties as well as the risk of losing a pilot over Iraq.
It pointed out that the southern zone was intended to counter the regime's repression of Shiites in the south, which has effectively ended.
The British government is proposing to retain the northern zone, set up to protect Kurds, because it argues that threat remains, it went on.
Facing a resurgent Saddam, who has almost seen off the air embargo against Baghdad, Britain has been looking at the introduction of "smart" sanctions as well, according to the report.
They would end all-embracing UN sanctions, increasingly opposed by Russia, France and China, to concentrate instead on a narrow band of prohibited goods, mainly weapons.
It would include measures such as limiting travel and hitting foreign bank accounts.
However London does not intend to let up on Saddam, the Guardian said, and still sees him as a serious threat to world stability -- LONDON (AFP)
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