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British Report On Hussein Regime Raises Many Questions of Timing

By Sebastian Rotella and Janet Stobart
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- LONDON

In a report whose timing was questioned by human rights advocates, the British government on Monday accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime of systematic executions, torture, rape and other abuses of its own people.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the dossier was intended “to remind the world that the abuses of the Iraqi regime extend far beyond its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.”

Although nongovernmental watchdog groups had no quarrel with the content of the 23-page report, they were skeptical about the motives behind its release. The report, essentially a review of well-documented human rights horrors in Iraq, was based on research by human rights advocates and information gathered by intelligence agencies.

“We don’t want to be used as an excuse to go to war,” said Kamal Samari of Amnesty International.

With Saddam facing a Sunday deadline to detail his weapons programs or risk a U.S.-led attack, the Foreign Office appeared intent on making the case for military intervention, said Hania Mufti, London director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch.

“It looks strategic, coming a few days before Iraq’s deadline,” Mufti said. “Plus the fact that the dossier doesn’t contain any new information.”

British diplomats argued that there is a direct link between the campaign to disarm Iraq and the regime’s bloody history. They pointed out that Saddam has the ignoble distinction of having used poison gas to kill 5,000 of his own people during the Halabja massacre in Kurdistan in 1988.

“The historical record showed the regime had used such weapons against its own people,” said one official. “If they were still in existence, Saddam Hussein would likely use them again.”