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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Blair seeks backing on Iraq
Tornado jets have patrolled the no-fly zones
No-fly zone patrols are being increasingly targeted, says an MP
Tony Blair is stepping up efforts to persuade MPs to back him over Iraq, amid claims he faces a backbench rebellion against possible military action.

The prime minister is briefing the chairmen of two key parliamentary committees ahead of next week's recall of Parliament.

Bruce George, from the Commons defence select committee, and Ann Taylor, from Parliament's intelligence and security committee, will see Mr Blair in Downing Street.

We have moved onto a faster track than was intended on the dossier

Downing Street
The latest diplomatic drive comes amid claims from Halifax MP Alice Mahon to the Independent newspaper that up to 100 Labour backbenchers will rebel against the government's policy.

Forcing a vote

Ministers will not offer MPs a formal vote on the possibility of military action against Saddam Hussein and his alleged build-up of weapons of mass destruction.

Critical MPs instead intend to force a vote on the adjournment of the Commons - a technical way of gauging the extent of backbench disquiet.

But Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has told his MPs to abstain if such a vote takes place because he feels it would be a "token gesture", his spokesman said.

The Tory leader wants MPs to vote on a substantive motion.

He says that would send a "strong message" that Iraq must comply with United Nations resolutions or face being toppled.

Evidence due

The government's much-promised dossier on Iraq is due to be published at 0800 next Tuesday, three hours before Parliament's recall.

Jack Straw
Straw says Iraq faces a stark choice
Downing Street has been questioned about why the dossier cannot be unveiled earlier.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "We have moved onto a faster track than was intended and that has given us some difficulties...

"The dossier tends to give some indications to why we are acting as we are."

'Clear choice'

That was the message from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Sunday as he gave the strongest signal yet that the UK could back America in seeking a new government in Iraq.

Mr Straw said the UN Security Council must pose Saddam a "very clear choice: either he deals with those weapons of mass destruction or his regime will have to end".

If the Iraqi leader admit inspectors then the case for military action "recedes almost to the point of invisibility", added Mr Straw.

Those remarks are unlikely to ease backbench concern, with Mrs Mahon accusing Mr Straw of making "warlike noises".

The supporters of military action have been boosted by Saudi Arabia saying it would give the US access to military bases on its territory for strikes against Iraq, provided the action is endorsed by the UN.

'Limited options'

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said that development changed the rules of the game.

"But Saddam Hussein can still avoid conflict if he allows unimpeded access in accordance with Security Council resolutions already in place," said Mr Campbell.

"It must surely be clear to him now that his options are swiftly running out."

RAF fears

Labour MP Clive Soley has just returned from visiting British air force troops in the Gulf.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that most of the troops he met had thought action was needed against Iraq but had concerns about how it was done.

"The majority of them took the view that something has to be done because the efforts at targeting British and American aircraft enforcing the no fly zones protecting the minorities in north and south Iraq are on the increase," he said.

"There are more attempts to intercept them with missiles and anti-aircraft cartons.

"The fear is that sooner of later they will get lucky and bring down a British or American aircraft."

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See also:

15 Sep 02 | Middle East
15 Sep 02 | Scotland
15 Sep 02 | Middle East
15 Sep 02 | Middle East
14 Sep 02 | Politics
13 Sep 02 | UK
12 Sep 02 | Politics
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