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CESSATION OF MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ

STATEMENT BY THE PRIME MINISTER, MR TONY BLAIR, DOWNING STREET, LONDON, SATURDAY 19 DECEMBER 1998

The latest wave of air strikes on Iraq has just ended. The final wave of British Tornadoes returned just before 2200 GMT. All British and American crews have returned safely. We salute them and thank them for their courage. As ever we can be immensely proud of our servicemen and women.

For obvious reasons until this moment we have been unable to tell you the anticipated length of the campaign but I can say now that it was always envisaged it would last four days. That is both because such a campaign is the right and proportionate response to Saddam’s breach of UN obligations and also because of our sensitivity to the holy month of Ramadan.

I will be holding a press conference tomorrow morning at 1100 . There we will give initial details of battle damage assessment and an outline of our forward strategy, including the diplomatic moves with our partners.

Tonight I can only tell you that our objectives have been achieved. We set out to diminish and degrade Saddam’s military capability and we have done so. Substantial damage has been inflicted upon his air defence systems, the command and control system for his armed forces, missile production capability and the systems which could be used for chemical and biological warfare. In addition, there has been real damage done to the special Republican Guard organisation, the elite of his armed forces, heavily involved in the weapons of mass destruction programme.

We have attacked targets with the greatest precision to minimise civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible. We regret deeply any loss of civilian life there has been.

Tonight, significant parts of Saddam’s military infrastructure are in ruins. His ability to threaten his region has been diminished. His ability to develop weapons of mass destruction has been substantially diminished too. What is more, he has now received the clearest possible signal of our intent to take action by force should he once again act in defiance of his international obligations in the face of an international community united in its determination to contain the threat which he poses. He should be in no doubt that we remain ready to act again.

As long as Saddam stays, the threat, and our readiness to confront it, stays. And once again I say to the Iraqi people: our quarrel is not and never has been with you. We have a common enemy in Saddam. But whilst he remains in power, we will remain determined to prevent him abusing that power and putting at risk the stability of his region and the world.

For the moment we can be satisfied with a job well done, proud of the forces who did what was asked of them and proud of the part that this country played in reducing the risk that Saddam poses, thereby making that region, and therefore the world, a safer place.