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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 19:37 GMT
Straw outlines Iraq's 'severe threat'
British tank soldier on patrol as part of the Allied Desert Storm operation in 1991
MPs on all sides are worried about more war in the Gulf
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has detailed what he says is compelling evidence of the "severe threat" Iraq poses to world security.

He also told MPs that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must let weapons inspectors freely examine whatever sites they wanted.

We should not rule out possible actions if Saddam Hussein does not comply with international law

Jack Straw

His comments follow British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US Vice-President Dick Cheney's joint warning to Iraq on Monday.

The government says no decisions on taking action against Iraq have been taken but MPs from all parties urged caution on Tuesday.

Mr Straw said: "We should not rule out possible actions if Saddam Hussein does not comply with international law."

But military action was the "last resort", he said, and would be taken only after talks with other states in the area.

"There is huge published, compelling evidence about Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi's regime's complicity in the production of weapons of mass destruction," Mr Straw continued.

'Vast arsenal'

United Nations inspectors had left Iraq in 1998 but the minister said they had discovered firm evidence of such production.

That evidence included:

  • Large quantities of chemical warfare agents, including nerve gas

  • Production of biological agents, such as anthrax

  • 4,000 tonnes of chemicals used in weapons production unaccounted for

  • 610 tonnes of chemicals used to make nerve gas unaccounted for.

    Conservative shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said those details showed Saddam Hussein possessed a "vast arsenal" of weapons of mass destruction.

    It had to be an overriding aim to decommission those weapons and stop Iraq using them or selling them to anyone else, said Mr Ancram.

    Earlier, former Conservative Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd warned America would not get Arab support for a military strike on Iraq unless the bloodshed in the Middle East was stopped.

    That concern was echoed in the Commons by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell.

    'Foolhardy' option

    Mr Campbell said there was a strong sense in Arab states that UN resolutions were being applied inconsistently.

    Armed action against Iraq should come only once all other options had been explored, he argued.

    Another Lib Dem MP, David Heath, went further, saying "massive military confrontation" with Iraq was not inevitable and would currently be "foolhardy".

    Ann Clwyd, Labour MP
    Ann Clwyd says Iraqi figures could tried in the UK
    Mr Heath argued the coalition against terrorism would disintegrate and both Iraq and Kurdish separatists would mobilise their forces.

    There was pressure from former Conservative cabinet minister Douglas Hogg for MPs to be given a vote before any decisions were taken on military action.

    Mr Straw said he welcomed debate on this matter but highlighted the convention which means the cabinet, rather than the House of Commons, decides military action.

    The foreign secretary faced pressure from his own backbenches, including from Labour MP Ann Clwyd.

    Dossier delays

    Ms Clwyd condemned the "most awful human rights abuses" committed by the Iraqi regime.

    But she said Indict, a human rights group she headed, had two years ago given the British attorney-general evidence of such crimes that could be tried in UK courts.

    Ms Clwyd asked: "Why has the attorney-general kicked it into the long grass by sending it to Scotland Yard?

    "Surely this is a better option for dealing with the Iraqi regime than some of the options that are now being considered?"

    Mr Straw promised to take up the issue with the attorney-general and arrange a meeting with Ms Clwyd.

    Later, the foreign secretary held a meeting with Labour backbenchers to try to allay fears over possible military action.

    About 50 MPs went to the meeting, which Mr Straw described as "cordial", with about a dozen of them expressing their concerns.

    After the meeting, Labour MP Derek Foster said: "I think there is anxiety that we are going along with what a right wing American president is seeking to do."

    Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
    "What lies at the heart of this issue is the rule of international law"
    See also:

    12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
    Hurd warns on Iraq action
    11 Mar 02 | Americas
    Cheney's 'thinking through' tour
    11 Mar 02 | Americas
    War 'playing into al-Qaeda's hands'
    09 Mar 02 | Middle East
    Iraq attacks US over arms inspections
    07 Mar 02 | Middle East
    Washington's case against Saddam
    11 Mar 02 | UK Politics
    Labour MPs warn against Iraq action
    11 Mar 02 | UK Politics
    Blair faces war backlash
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