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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Blair faces MPs' anger over Iraq
Tony Blair has faced mounting criticism over his position on Iraq.
Almost 150 MPs have criticised Blair's position on Iraq
Tony Blair has gone all out to calm MPs' fears over possible action against Iraq amid a welter of Commons questions about the issue.

Mr Blair was grilled by MPs from all sides at a stormy Prime Minister's Question Time.

Simply turning our backs on the issue of weapons of mass destruction is not an option

Tony Blair
He told them Britain will not be rushed into a new offensive against Saddam Hussein.

But he stressed that he remained committed to a "regime change" in Iraq.

"Simply turning our backs on the issue of weapons of mass destruction is not an option," Mr Blair said.

"It is an issue that has to be confronted, we will do it a sensible way, do it in a measured way, but we cannot allow a state of this nature (Iraq) to develop these weapons without let or hindrance."

'Serious and sensible'

Earlier, Mr Blair told a packed meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party that the fullest possible consensus would be sought before any military offensive is launched against Iraq.

The only thing today (Wednesday) that might have changed is that the timescale appears to be longer rather than shorter

Eric Illsley MP
A Labour spokesman said that of 15 questions taken by Mr Blair after his speech, eight were "serious and sensible" questions about Iraq.

But the prime minister's words failed to reassure some Labour backbenchers.

Barnsley MP Eric Illsley, a member of the foreign affairs select committee, said: "The prime minister has reiterated his position that nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out, that the status quo cannot be an option and said he is still committed to military action."

Eric Ilsley
Ilsley: Still concerned

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "The only thing today (Wednesday) that might have changed is that the timescale appears to be longer rather than shorter."

Fellow Labour backbencher Brian Iddon said: "He (Mr Blair) is rallying the troops and to a degree he has done that.

"But obviously everyone is very nervous about the situation. We are extremely anxious and we will remain so until this position in the Middle East is resolved."

Alice Mahon said most members of the PLP were "rather disappointed with the lack of detail about supporting another war against Iraq."

She said MPs had been seeking a specific reassurance that the US and Britain would not act alone without going through the United Nations.

Former minister Peter Mandelson, who was also at the meeting, said he did not think military action against Iraq was inevitable.

But he added Labour MPs such as Alice Mahon were speaking out of "pacifistic" motives rather than a realistic assessment of the situation.

'Difficult and dangerous'

Almost 150 MPs, 125 of them from the Labour benches, have signed a Commons motion expressing "deep unease" about possible action against Saddam Hussein.

International Development secretary Clare Short has expressed concern from within the cabinet and is among those MPs who want any military action to be sanctioned by the UN.

Saddam Hussein
Saddam has started oil sanctions in protest over Israeli actions
MPs will debate the situation in the Commons next Tuesday.

Backbench fears were heightened by Mr Blair's weekend summit with US President George Bush in Texas, when the prime minister warned the problem of Iraq could not be ignored.

After the regular session of questions from MPs, Mr Blair was then making a Commons statement on the latest drive to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Restarting the peace talks formed a major part of the summit in Texas, where Mr Blair proposed the Saudi Arabian peace plan should be made into UN resolution.

But many critics argue any action against Iraq will only plunge the region into more violence and Mr Blair is unlikely to avoid questions about Saddam Hussein.

Tony Blair, British Prime Minister
"Let the weapons inspectors in, any one, any place, any time"
The BBC's John Devitt
"Blair is trying to say that all options are still open"
UK Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw MP
"The world is speaking with one voice, there must be a ceasefire"
Labour MP Jack Cunningham
"There is a pretty evil regime in Iraq"

Tony BlairIraq action
Should Britain take action against Iraq?
See also:

10 Apr 02 | UK Politics
UK steps up pressure on Israel
10 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Puzzled PM faces his critics
10 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Head to head: Action on Iraq
10 Apr 02 | UK
British peacekeeper dies
09 Apr 02 | UK Politics
UK condemns Iraqi oil embargo
08 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair ready to take on critics
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq vows to defy Western 'enemy'
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