Parliament backs Blair's tough Iraq policy

Many in his party rebel, endorse anti-war measure

February 27, 2003|By Janet Stobart and Sebastian Rotella | Janet Stobart and Sebastian Rotella,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LONDON - The British Parliament voted yesterday to support Prime Minister Tony Blair's hard-line policy toward Iraq, but only after Blair endured the biggest legislative rebellion of his tenure when dissident Labor Party members endorsed an anti-war motion.

The parliamentary session displayed the growing opposition to Blair's partnership with President Bush in any military confrontation with Iraq.

Blair averted substantive setbacks because 434 members of the 626-seat House of Commons voted for his key initiative, a cautiously worded motion that backs the United Nations in its attempt to disarm Iraq. The measure did not mention the prospect of a war involving the 42,000 British troops who have joined U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.

Nonetheless, the powerful anti-war mood in Blair's Labor Party generated a vigorous debate. And dissident Laborites introduced an amendment declaring "the case for military action against Iraq as yet unproven."

The amendment was defeated but received 199 votes, 121 of them from Labor. Never before in the prime minister's six years in office had so many Labor legislators broken ranks with him.

Labor Member of Parliament Chris Smith, leader of yesterday's anti-war motion, called for U.N. weapons inspections to continue and scolded Blair for joining what he called a rush to war.

"The timetable appears to be determined by the decisions of the president of the United States and not by the logic of events," Smith said. "Strength does not lie simply in military might. It lies in making the right moral choices, in securing the fullest international agreement."

Although most of the Conservative opposition sides with Blair, a prominent Conservative critic warned that an invasion of Iraq would make terrorism more likely, not less.

"I cannot rid myself of doubts that the course to war we are now embarked on was actually decided many months ago, primarily in Washington," said Kenneth Clarke, a former Cabinet minister. "The next time a large bomb goes off in a Western city, how far does this policy contribute to it?"

Blair, continuing his campaign to convince worried Britons that his policy has a firm moral basis, said, "I think the case we have set out in respect of Iraq is a good case. I hope that if people listen to it and study it in detail, they will accept that if we do have to act and go to war, it will not be because we want to, but because of the breaches by Saddam Hussein of U.N. resolutions."

Janet Stobart and Sebastian Rotella write for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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