The British government Monday accused Iraq of systematic and vicious human rights abuses in a detailed report that appeared designed to keep the pressure on President Saddam Hussein while weapons inspectors in Baghdad continue their work.
The 23-page catalog of rapes, torture, and other atrocities aims "to remind the world that the abuses of the Iraqi regime extend far beyond its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in violation of its international obligations," British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said.
The report was issued six days before the deadline set by the UN for Iraq to make a complete declaration of its weapons or face "serious consequences."
The Iraqi government has so far appeared to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors who began their task last week, offering none of the harassment and obstruction that halted earlier inspection efforts.
That has led to some speculation that the Iraqi leader may be trying harder to convince world opinion that he is complying with UN Security Council resolution 1441, which implicitly threatens the use of force if Baghdad does not provide an accurate inventory of its chemical, biological and nuclear projects, and allow inspectors to verify it.
Should President Hussein succeed in that aim, he would complicate the US administration's declared goal of overthrowing him, obliging Washington to act alone - or with a small group of allies - rather than with the legitimacy of a United Nations mandate.
Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog that has protested Iraqi human rights violations for decades, accused Mr. Straw of "cold and calculated manipulation" of the situation in Iraq to bolster the case for military action against Hussein.
"What is of concern to us is the tendency to use human rights reports to try to justify political goals" said Amnesty International spokesman Kamal Samari. "We haven't heard the British authorities or Western governments speaking out against Saudi Arabia or Israel."
President George W. Bush made respect for human rights one of the conditions for peace with Baghdad when he addressed the UN last September. "If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population ... as required by Security Council resolutions," Mr. Bush said.
A 1991 UN resolution called on the Iraqi government to cease repression of ethnic and religious minorities, which it said threatened international peace and security.
No other government, however, has followed Washington in threatening war should Saddam Hussein continue to violate human rights. Indeed such action would mark a radical shift in US foreign policy: Even President Jimmy Carter, who made respect for human rights a cornerstone of his policy toward foreign governments, never suggested he would declare war on abusers.
Zaab Setna, adviser to the opposition Iraqi National Congress, said that he was "greatly encouraged" by the new focus on human rights in his country. "It was difficult for us to get people to listen," he said.
Iraqis heard about President Bush's September speech "and people were ecstatic about that," Mr. Setna said. "It's the first time in all these years that prominence has been given to the situation of the Iraqi people."
The US administration has so far hesitated to make the Iraqi regime's abuse of human rights a central theme of its campaign against Hussein.
US officials planning a possible invasion of Iraq hope they may be able to persuade some top Iraqi military officers to defect at the last moment, a task that would be complicated if those officers feared prosecution for past human rights abuses.
Two weeks ago, Danish police arrested an exiled Iraqi general, Nizar Khazraji, on charges that he had ordered a chemical weapons attack in 1988 that killed thousands of Kurds. Khazraji, a former army Chief of Staff, had been tipped as the possible leader of a mutiny by the Iraqi military.
The US administration is drawing up dossiers with evidence of human rights abuses by several top members of the Baghdad regime, but American officials are thought to be hoping for war crimes trials only for a select handful, including members of the president's inner circle.
As weapons inspections in Iraq continued for the fifth day Monday, a UN team visited the al-Karamah factory, which once made guidance and control systems for Iraq's "stretch Scud" missiles. Baghdad modified Soviet-made Scuds to longer range and used them in the Gulf War, but such long-range missiles - 400 miles - are now prohibited for Iraq.
The UN inspectors left the missile plant, in the Wazireyah industrial district of Baghdad, after six hours, without talking to reporters. The plant's deputy director, Brigadier Mohammed Salah, said all went smoothly and the arms experts found nothing, because "we don't engage in this kind of activity."
A second team said to be from the UN nuclear regulatory agency visited three alcoholic beverage plants on Baghdad's outskirts, according to the Iraqis who manage the plants. The purpose of the inspection could not be immediately determined. The managers said inspectors also had visited the plants in the 1990s and placed tags on some equipment.
Despite inspection visits that appear to be going without a hitch, reports of deception by Iraq have surfaced.
According to an article Friday in The Times of London that cited intelligence reports, Mr. Hussein has ordered hundreds of officials and scientists to conceal key components of weapons of mass destruction inside their homes, and farmers have been told to hide drums of chemicals among pesticide stocks. Iraqi officials reacted angrily to the report, with one accusing the West of making up any story to justify an attack on Iraq.
• Martin Hodgson in London contributed to this report, and material from wire services was also used.