LONDON – Going to war with Iraq may be a better solution than continuing economic sanctions that will kill thousands of innocent people, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday.
Blair, who has acknowledged that many Britons remain unconvinced of the need for military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime, said both opponents and advocates of military action should “weigh up the moral consequences of war.”
“Before we take the decision to go to war, the morality of that should weigh heavily on our conscience because innocent people, as well as the guilty, die in a war,” Blair told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
“The only alternative to disarmament by the U.N. is that we keep sanctions in place year on year on year and, I’m simply saying, that also is a choice with bad and devastating consequences for the Iraqi people.”
Economic sanctions imposed after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 have shattered the economy and left most of Iraq’s 23 million people dependent on a U.N. program that permits the government sell its oil to buy humanitarian goods.
Blair is the staunchest European supporter of President Bush’s hard-line stand against Iraq. On Wednesday Blair said it was still possible the United Nations would authorize force to disarm Saddam, despite opposition from Security Council members including France, China and Russia.
The dissenters want to see Iraq disarmed peacefully through inspections. The United States and Britain say Iraq is blocking weapons inspectors sent in by the U.N.
Blair said inspectors would be given “as much time as they need” if chief inspector Hans Blix says Iraq truly is cooperating when he reports to the Security Council on Friday.
“I believe this should be resolved through the U.N. After all the original instruction given to Saddam was an instruction from the U.N.,” Blair said.
However, he added, “If Iraq is not cooperating, then we have to be careful we do not get sucked back into the situation we had in the 1990s where the inspectors were in there for years” without ridding Iraq of chemical and biological weapons.
Blair has reached out to skeptical voters in recent weeks, arguing the case for military action in Parliament and holding a televised question-and-answer session before a hostile crowd.
A poll published Wednesday suggests most people remain unconvinced.
Only 9 percent of respondents to the British Broadcasting Corp. survey said Britain should participate in a war without the approval of the U.N. Forty percent backed war with a U.N. mandate, while 45 percent said Britain should not participate in any circumstances.
Pollster ICM surveyed 1006 people on Feb. 10 and 11. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.