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British Report Blasts Iraqi Human Rights Record

Britain has issued a report on human rights conditions in Iraq. It accuses Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of systematically using torture, rape and terror against his people.

The British report released Monday accuses Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of having what it describes as a "cruel and callous disregard for human rights."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is playing down speculation the government issued the report to sway British public opinion to support military action against Iraq. But in a speech Monday, he said the public does need to understand what life is like in Iraq.

"Abuses of the Iraqi regime go far beyond its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in violation of its international obligations. The dossier does make for harrowing reading, with accounts of torture, rape and other horrific human rights abuses," Mr. Straw said.

The secretary general of the human rights organization Amnesty International, Irene Khan, said Britain is speaking out now but in the past turned a blind eye toward Iraq's abuses. "The human rights situation in Iraq is being invoked with unusual frequency by some Western political leaders to justify military action. This selective attention to human rights is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists," she said.

In another development, Iraqi opposition leaders are making plans to meet in London this week with senior American officials to discuss possible U.S.-led military action and post-war political scenarios.

The chairman of the London-based Iraqi National Congress, Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, will be among those meeting U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the State Department's third-ranking official, Marc Grossman.

Mr. Al-Hussein told British radio Monday the timing of the meeting is important, because Iraq faces a Sunday deadline to give the United Nations a report on any banned weapons its might possess. "We have to look at what looks likely to be a military conflict with Iraq. And we are beginning to take steps to look at the post-Saddam era. The countdown does start from the beginning of next week, from December 8. There will be trigger points along the way, which we expect, at some point, Saddam will not comply with the U.N. resolutions," he said.

The meeting also comes before a mid-December conference in London of more than 50 Iraqi groups to choose an opposition leadership committee.