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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 20:21 GMT 21:21 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.

Some of the fiercest criticism came from Mr Blair's own MPs during a stormy Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday.

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

Tony Blair
Mr Blair reassured them that Britain would not be rushed into a new offensive against Saddam Hussein.

He said there was "no doubt whatever that the world would be a better place without Saddam."

But the method of removing him was still "open to consultation."

"When the judgements have been made, I have no doubt that this house - and indeed the whole country - will want to debate the issue thoroughly," Mr Blair told MPs.

'Time has not arisen'

In a largely supportive intervention, Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: "In the future, if left unchecked, Iraq will be able to deploy its weapons of mass destruction against targets in western Europe, including the UK."

Eric Ilsley
Ilsley: Still concerned
In these circumstances, he asked Mr Blair if the British government would support and, if necessary, contribute to any US action against Iraq.

Mr Blair replied: "The time for military action has not yet arisen."

But, he added: "Simply turning our backs on the issue of weapons of mass destruction is not an option."

He said it was "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," he told MPs.

Saddam message

Mr Blair agreed with Labour's Jon Owen Jones that it was important to avoid "double standards" in dealing with Iraq and the situation in the Middle East.

We are extremely anxious and we will remain so until this position in the Middle East is resolved

Brian Iddon MP
He also reminded MPs that negotiations about weapons inspectors in Iraq had been going on before 11 September's terrorist attacks on the US.

And he repeated his message to Saddam that UN weapons inspectors should be let in to Iraq at "any time" and in "any place."

But the prime minister rejected claims from former Labour defence minister Peter Kilfoyle that there had been mixed messages from the UK and US governments over the Middle East crisis.

'Message of restraint'

"We have been absolutely clear that we condemned entirely those things that are happening the Middle East at the moment," said Mr Blair.

Peter Kilfoyle
Peter Kilfoyle was among Labour MPs questioning Blair
That meant urging Israel to withdraw from its West Bank incursions but also condemning Palestinian suicide attacks.

"There has to be a message of restraint and for an end to violence for both sides," said Mr Blair, who later made a further statement to MPs on the Middle East crisis.

The prime minister also criticised those who said America had not been fully engaged in trying to resolve the Middle East conflict.

In contrast, US Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the region show the "earnestness of American intentions".

'Extremely anxious'

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 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: "We are extremely anxious and we will remain so until this position in the Middle East is resolved."

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

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"Mr Blair gave MPs the impression that nothing has been ruled in or out"
Labour MP Jack Cunningham
"There is a pretty evil regime in Iraq"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"If the Americans go for military action in Iraq next year, Tony Blair will be there with them"

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
Blair tactics backfire over Iraq
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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