Blair: Saddam, terror joint threat
LONDON, England (CNN) -- British PM Tony Blair says failure to use force to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would bring "years of repentance at our weakness."
Saddam had to be removed, Blair said in a TV address to the British people Thursday, because he represented a joint threat from tyrannical states who did not respect the sanctity of human life and terrorists.
"My fear, deeply held, based in part on the intelligence that I see, is that these threats come together and deliver catastrophe to our country and world," Blair said in the TV address, recorded before he left London for Thursday's EU summit in Brussels.
Today's world faced a new threat, Blair said, of disorder and chaos born either of brutal states like Iraq, armed with weapons of mass destruction, or of extreme terrorist groups.
"Both hate our way of life, our freedom, our democracy. These tyrannical states do not care for the sanctity of human life. The terrorists delight in destroying it.
"Some say if we act, we become a target. The truth is, all nations are targets. Bali was never in the front line of action against terrorism. America didn't attack al Qaeda They attacked America."
Blair said he had ordered British forces to take part in military action Tuesday. He recognised this had produced deep divisions of opinion in Britain. But terrorists could get weapons of mass destruction from countries like Iraq.
"My judgment, as prime minister is that this threat is real, growing and of an entirely different nature to any conventional threat to our security that Britain has faced before."
Blair said that for 12 years, the world tried to disarm Saddam. U.N. weapons inspectors said vast amounts of chemical and biological poisons, such as anthrax, VX nerve agent,and mustard gas were unaccounted for in Iraq.
"Our choice is clear: back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened; or proceed to disarm him by force. Saddam is not the only threat. But the best way to deal with future threats peacefully is to deal with present threats with resolve."
Removing Saddam will be a blessing to the Iraqi people, Blair said, with 4 million Iraqis in exile, 60 percent of the population dependent on food aid and thousands of children dying every year through malnutrition and disease.
"I hope the Iraqi people hear this message. We are with you. Our enemy is not you, but your barbarous rulers. Our commitment to the post-Saddam humanitarian effort will be total. We shall help Iraq move towards democracy. And put the money from Iraqi oil in a UN trust fund so that it benefits Iraq and no one else."
Blair said Iraq was not the only concern of himself and President Bush. They had committed themselves to peace in the Middle East based on a secure state of Israel and a viable Palestinian state. Challenges on the environment, poverty and disease required a world of order and stability, he said.
"Dictators like Saddam, terrorist groups like al Qaeda threaten the very existence of such a world. that is why I have asked our troops to go into action tonight as so often before, on the courage and determination of British men and women, serving our country the fate of many nations rests."
Blair spoke as CNN's Christiane Amanpour reported that British troops had launched as assault in southern Iraq.
Earlier Thursday, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon had told the House of Commons that Blair would address the nation "once military action has begun and UK forces are substantially engaged."
Meanwhile, thousands of anti-war protesters took to the streets in various cities around Britain Thursday to demonstrate against military action in Iraq.
In London, police drew their truncheons in Parliament Square to turn back a section of a 2,000-strong crowd after demonstrators tried to force their way into Whitehall, where government offices are located.
Officers were pelted with bottles and sticks that had been torn from banners.
The show of anger appeared to have been prompted when a section of the crowd tried to break out of Parliament Square, pushing against a police cordon to try to gain access towards Blair's office and home in Downing Street.