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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
Blair ready to take on critics
Tony Blair and George Bush in Crawford, Texas
Blair is under fire over his closeness to Bush
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By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online's political correspondent

Tony Blair has returned from his summit with President George Bush ready to take on those opposing him over military action against Saddam Hussein.

But he is facing mounting anger over his decision to harden his stance during his meeting with the president.

There is no sign that the opposition to military action is about to wane

His threat to use force against Iraq has enflamed the anger on his own benches and he is now set for a showdown with his critics over coming days.

Any suggestion that he was attempting to fudge the issue was dispelled when he spoke on his aircraft returning from the US.

He made it plain he was ready to consider action to topple Saddam.

But he also repeated his insistence that now was not the time to take decisions.

'No hurry'

And he suggested he could win over his critics, both on his own benches and in the cabinet.

"A lot of the anxieties people have is that they think we are going to act precipitately, we are not and we are not at the point of decision.

"The point we are at is the point of saying this is a real issue we can't duck it, he is in breach of UN resolutions and he has to let inspectors back in an unconditional way," he said.

George Galloway, Labour MP
George Galloway is among the most critical backbenchers
"Most people want us to act for the right reasons in the right way.

"Very few people in the PLP don't agree that weapons of mass destruction aren't an issue or that it's important that we stop him developing those weapons. So the issue is about how.

"All I say to people is let's not get ahead of ourselves here. The time for action is not now."

"People should make their judgements at the time we make our judgements. Let's just wait and see."

He also claimed that minister Clare Short agreed with his position, declaring: "If you analyse what Clare Short says it is fully compatible with that."

Gulf War revisited

But the prime minister has a formidable battle on his hands.

He claims many of his critics are the same people who originally opposed the Gulf War in 1991.

The implication is that, when the time for action comes, the rebels will be either won over or marginalised.

But this time it is possible he will face a major backbench rebellion, possibly a cabinet split, and tough opposition from other EU leaders.

He is already being branded George Bush's poodle in some sections of the Labour Party and there is no sign that the opposition to military action is about to wane.

He has promised to publish a dossier of evidence against Saddam Hussein and his development of weapons of mass destruction, but that has already been postponed once.

Principled opposition

It is likely he wants to hold back until nearer the time of any decision on action.

In that time he will have to make powerful attempts to win over his critics.

And it is highly likely that even that will not persuade those who are fundamentally opposed to military action in principle.

This issue still has the potential to cause him serious trouble and his visit to the US has only made matters worse.

See also:

07 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair - 'We are ready to act on Iraq'
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
US and UK demand Israel pullout
06 Apr 02 | Americas
Allies sit down to 'mammoth task'
03 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Short 'carpeted' over Iraq
24 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw bids to ease Iraq fears
01 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair to press ahead with US trip
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw outlines Iraq's 'severe threat'
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
US sends mixed signals on Mid-East
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