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Wednesday, February 18, 1998 Published at 00:30 GMT

UK: Politics

MPs support use of force against Iraq
image: [ Cook:
Cook: "We still seek a peaceful end to the dispute"

The Government has won massive cross-party backing in the Commons for the threat to use military force if diplomacy fails in the Iraqi weapons inspection crisis.

Despite the defiance of some Labour backbenchers opposed to action, Prime Minister Tony Blair's determination to use "all necessary means" to resolve the crisis was backed by 493 to 25 - a majority of 468.

The rebellion was led by Labour veterans Tony Benn and Tam Dalyell, who forced the vote and acted as tellers.

Clear objectives 'vital'

[ image: Questions were fired at Mr Cook from both sides of the House]
Questions were fired at Mr Cook from both sides of the House
Winding up the debate, Defence Secretary George Robertson announced that ministers accepted the opposition Tories' amendment to the Government's motion.

That stressed "the importance of setting the clearest possible objectives linked to any action that might be taken".

Mr Robertson warned: "Letting Saddam off ... settling for some convenient fudge in the face of Saddam's defiance - these are options too dangerous to contemplate.

Robin Cook: "Can be no agreement which compromises inspections" (0'48")
"I carry the burden of deploying into the theatre of possible war many young men and women of Britain's armed forces.

"I salute their professionalism and dedication to their country. I do not want to send them into battle. I detest the prospect."

Mr Robertson said their existence in the Gulf was to ensure international security was preserved.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook warned that Saddam Hussein's fighting machine would be "hit hard" if military action was taken against his regime.

"We do not want to take action and would stand down our forces if we can secure our objectives by diplomacy."

Benn leads opposition

With Tories behind the Prime Minister, it was left to some Labour backbenchers to put the case against strikes in the impassioned six-hour debate.

Tony Benn led those opposed to action, telling his front bench bluntly that he would be voting against the Government.

Tony Benn: "There's no international support for war" (0'46")
"Every MP who votes for the Government motion will be accepting the responsibility for the deaths of innocent people if the war begins, as I fear it will," he warned.

Mr Benn ridiculed the idea that two weeks of bombing could lead to a resumption of weapons inspections.

[ image: Tam Dalyell:
Tam Dalyell: "Are we sure that by bombing, we are not risking a terrible scourge on Western Asia?"
"I fear this could end in a tragedy even for the American and British governments. Suez and Vietnam are not far from the minds of anyone who has any sense of history."

Mr Dalyell warned of the dangers of accidental release of Saddam's chemical and biological weapons. He said the bacterial disease anthrax and other toxic materials could lead to horrific large scale deaths without intensive antibiotic treatment.

Former ministers supportive

[ image: Howard wants objectives laid out]
Howard wants objectives laid out
Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard backed the Government's efforts to find a diplomatic solution while keeping the military option open.

Michael Howard: "We support the government's stand" (0'24")
"It is not an abstract question of enforcing resolutions, it is also about preventing a dangerous dictator acquiring the means to destroy whole populations".

[ image: John Major: emphatic support]
John Major: emphatic support
Former Prime Minister John Major said Saddam must be warned of "massive retaliation" if he were to attack a third country like Israel.

Mr Major said that if diplomacy failed in settling the crisis, it would be right to use force.

John Major: "right to use force if diplomacy fails"(0'38")
"I don't like it - indeed, I hate it. But I know that it may have to be done."

He said that if force was used, it must be concentrated on the means of production for chemical and biological weapons and the accidental release of stockpiled material must be avoided.

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