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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
MPs stress UN Iraq role
Satellite image shows a new engine test stand being constructed
Satellite images are contained in the dossier
Tony Blair has been urged by MPs not to take action against Saddam Hussein without United Nations backing.

Opening an emergency Commons debate on the Iraq crisis, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw branded Saddam's regime "uniquely evil and uniquely dangerous".

Jack Straw
Jack Straw says Iraq intends to use weapons of mass destruction
The government's stance - set out in a dossier published earlier on Tuesday - received the backing of the Conservatives and many Labour MPs.

But backbench Labour rebels and the Liberal Democrats voiced grave concerns about the possibility of military action.

Mr Straw insisted the UK and US wanted to avoid war but Iraq had to be given a clear choice between complying willingly with UN resolutions or being forced to do so.

MPs will continue the debate until 2200 BST (2100 GMT), and the House of Lords is also discussing the crisis.

Anti-war MPs are expected to make their voice heard by forcing a procedural vote on the adjournment of the House.

No specific vote

Labour's Tam Dalyell, the longest serving MP, had his proposed motion ruling out UK support for a war against Iraq without the backing of the UN and the Commons rejected by Speaker Michael Martin.

The most fervent attack on the government's stance came from Glasgow MP George Galloway, a regular visitor to Iraq.
George Galloway, Labour MP
Galloway: Thousands of Iraqi civilians would die in a war

The Glasgow MP said: "The (UN weapons) inspectors are the only people who can be trusted with this information - not people with a propaganda interest in drawing up dossiers."

"The British people instinctively know that adding another war to the Middle East, where there are quite enough wars already, does not look like a sensible idea," said Mr Galloway.

In a plea to fellow Labour MPs, Mr Galloway said they should be siding with people like Nelson Mandela and Al Gore against war, rather than with George Bush and other US Republican figures.

Thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians would be killed if war went ahead, he predicted.

UN route

Former minister George Foulkes warned that the "usual suspects" criticising the government risked giving comfort to a dictator.

Chris Smith, a former Labour cabinet minister, was among several MPs highlighting the dangers of "go-it-alone" American action.

Mr Smith urged the government only to take action specifically endorsed by the UN.
Iain Duncan Smith underlined the threat to the UK

But Donald Anderson, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, praised Tony Blair for persuading George Bush to follow the UN route.

MPs went to the Commons armed with the new dossier of evidence about Iraq's alleged weapons programmes.

Its publication was welcomed by Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who told MPs Saddam Hussein had already "had 10 years of second chances. Now surely is the time to act."

The Tory leader claimed Iraq potentially posed a direct threat to the UK.

"War should be the last resort when all other efforts have failed, but Britain should never shy away from its responsibilities at a time of international crisis," added Mr Duncan Smith.

It would create a dangerous precedent in international affairs

Charles Kennedy

But not all Conservative MPs agreed it would be right to use force.

Former Tory cabinet minister Douglas Hogg said that on the current facts "war is not justified" on moral grounds.

Public opinion would only accept a war if the need for it was "overwhelming clear" - that was not the case now, said Mr Hogg.

Regime change fears

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy warned against "precipitate" action on Iraq, without the backing of the United Nations and the international community.

He also expressed "deep concern" about the "ill-defined" concept of "regime change" in Iraq.

"It would create a dangerous precedent in international affairs," said Mr Kennedy, who said all efforts should focus on restarting weapons inspections.

He warned Mr Blair to bear in mind the reaction in the rest of the Arab world and questioned "who or what" might follow Saddam Hussein's regime.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble supported the government's threat of force to get weapons inspectors let back into Iraq.

But Mr Trimble was worried that if weapons inspections failed and "other methods" had to be used, there could be a rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

"It will be exploited by Saddam Hussein to try to destabilise other areas," said Mr Trimble.

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See also:

24 Sep 02 | Politics
23 Sep 02 | Panorama
11 Sep 02 | Politics
23 Sep 02 | Middle East
23 Sep 02 | Europe
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