WASHINGTON - The British government's report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction makes an explicit and extensive case that Saddam Hussein has been working to break through barriers that have constrained him from rebuilding his military and the deadly weaponry that he possessed a decade ago.
Although many Americans, and far more Europeans, might not see that as adequate cause to go to war - if President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair choose that option - the report appears intended to make a case for the urgent return of inspectors to Iraq and for the necessary pressure to force Iraq to cooperate with their work.
The initial reaction of Blair's critics was that the intelligence report was unpersuasive. The Iraqis viewed it as "propaganda in preparation for war and not for the scrutiny of experts," as one of Hussein's advisers, Amir al-Sa'adi, said in Baghdad.
With 50 pages of analysis, photos, maps, diagrams and conclusions, the report outlined the case that, as Blair put it yesterday, "the policy of containment is not working" in Iraq.
Iraq's program to acquire weapons that Hussein foreswore at the end of the Persian Gulf war "is not shut down," Blair told the British Parliament. "It is up and running."
James R. Schlesinger, the former secretary of defense who is expected to testify in Congress today that he supports Bush's effort to remove Hussein, put Blair's presentation in historical terms.
"Tony Blair would rather be on the side of Anthony Eden than Stanley Baldwin," he said, a reference to the British foreign secretary, Eden, who in 1938 decried the "appeasement" of German aggression, and Baldwin, the British prime minister who in 1935 failed to act in the face of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's aggression in East Africa.
Blair understands the fundamental urgency to "move before Saddam acquires a fair number of weapons," Schlesinger said.
Like the white paper on Iraq released this month by the Bush administration, the British report contains a great deal of information that was previously known.
A number of experts pointed out yesterday that the report confirms that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose no imminent threat to the United States. However, it makes clear that American allies are threatened.
Leonard S. Spector of the Monterey Institute's center for proliferation studies said that he believes the British report makes a strong case for avoiding war for whatever period of time it takes United Nations inspectors to return and clean out the hair-trigger chemical and biological weapons that the British highlighted in their report.
"It seems to me that they make the case that Saddam is very dangerous and argues for inspectors first. If he has got the ability to lash out with biological and chemical weapons against his civilian population, and we could suppress a good deal of that with aggressive inspections, it seems to me a better choice than taking him on immediately."