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Blair: Britain, US Making Last Effort to Get Saddam to Disarm - 2003-02-23

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair says Britain and the United States are making what he calls a "last push for peace," as they try to secure a new U.N. resolution ordering Saddam Hussein to disarm.

According to a spokesman for Mr. Blair, a draft resolution will be presented to the U.N. Security Council in the next few days, and a vote will be expected around mid-March.

He said this means the next three weeks are absolutely crucial if war is to be avoided. The Iraqi leader has this time to give up his suspected chemical and biological weapons or face military action.

Mr. Blair will brief lawmakers Tuesday in London. On Wednesday, the House of Commons and the House of Lords will hold separate debates on the Iraqi crisis.

But the British leader still has to convince the majority of his people. Polls show that most Britons oppose war without a resolution from the U.N. Security Council.

Even among those who think that Mr. Blair is following the right track, there are deep reservations.

Interviewed on the BBC, former Prime Minister John Major, who sent thousands of British troops to join in the Gulf War of 1991, said he believes that military action against Saddam Hussein could have unexpected consequences. He recalled how the retreating Iraqis set fire to Kuwaiti oil fields.

"They may also use weapons to set alight the oil wells in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, or they could, of course, use their weapons and their warheads to strike either at Saudi Arabia or at Israel, possibly with chemical weapons. And the purpose of that, of course, would be, particularly with Israel, to try and draw Israel into the war in the hope that it would create a wider Arab coalition, muddy the water, and create the maximum amount of chaos," Mr. Major said.

Aside from the danger of a cornered Saddam Hussein, Mr. Major said, the process of stabilizing a post-Saddam Iraq will be very complex and take much longer than most people think.

American, British and Australian troops may enter Baghdad as liberators, says Mr. Major, but they may find they will be there much longer as peacekeepers.