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Britain Fully Involved in Planning of Attacks on Iraq - 2003-03-20

Britain says Thursday's air strikes on Iraq are just the first phase of what will become a bigger campaign targeting the Iraqi leadership. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon also says America's chief ally was fully involved in the planning of the raids on Baghdad.

Mr. Hoon says Thursday's attack was the first shot in a major campaign against Iraqi leaders, as he explained on British radio. "This is part of what will in time prove to be continuing coalition operations to deal with a leadership in Iraq that controls weapons of mass destruction, that controls chemical and biological weapons," he said.

Britain is the main ally of the United States in the Iraq campaign, and Mr. Hoon said his defense ministry was briefed in full ahead of the initial strikes. "Well, it was not a surprise at all," he said. "I was well aware that these preliminary operations were going to be taking place. And we were fully informed, and, indeed, fully involved in this process."

Mr. Hoon was asked about the fate of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He said it would take some time for a damage assessment to be concluded.

Mr. Hoon spoke just before a meeting of Britain's war Cabinet with Prime Minister Tony Blair. The prime minister had declared in parliament Wednesday that the only way to disarm Iraq was to remove Saddam Hussein.

Britain has sent some 45,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen to the Gulf region, as part of the U.S.-led military coalition against Iraq.