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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 22:08 GMT 23:08 UK
Iraq rebels make Commons protest
Tony Blair addressing the House of Commons on Tuesday
Tony Blair tried to convince anxious MPs
More than fifty Labour MPs have registered their opposition to Tony Blair's stance against Iraq in a Commons vote.

The technical vote came at the end of a passionate day-long emergency debate in Parliament after a UK Government dossier accused Baghdad of continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction.

It is the innocent Iraqi civilians who will die in their thousands if this war goes ahead

George Galloway
Labour MP
The government would not allow a specific anti-war vote, but veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell led critics by forcing a vote against Parliament ending its day's work.

The rebels notched up more support than expected - nearly 70 MPs in all - but government loyalists, Conservatives and most Liberal Democrats abstained, saying the vote was meaningless.

Cabinet minister Paul Boateng stressed on BBC Two's Newsnight that the "overwhelming majority" of MPs were behind the government's determination to disarm Iraq.

Open in new window : Dossier at-a-glance
Iraq and weapons of mass destruction

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair won cautious support on the need to tackle Iraq's alleged build-up of weapons of mass destruction, but many MPs urged him to get United Nations backing.

The dossier claims Iraq is still producing chemical and biological weapons and plans to use them.

The Conservatives backed Mr Blair's insistence on the need for the threat of force against Iraq, but the Liberal Democrats and some Labour MPs have voiced grave concerns.

Mr Blair began Parliament's emergency sitting, arguing that the case for making sure that Iraq disarmed was overwhelming.

"We know, again from our history, that diplomacy not backed by the threat of force has never worked with dictators and never will work," he said.

Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith: Iraq has enjoyed 10 years of second chances

Mr Blair said disarming Iraq, not toppling Saddam Hussein, was his aim, although he would be delighted to see a different regime in Baghdad.

Later, Iraq was among the issues discussed at a private dinner in Downing Street between Mr Blair and German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, an opponent of military action.

The new dossier, dismissed as "lies" by Iraq, was welcomed by Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.

Saddam Hussein had already "had 10 years of second chances. Now surely is the time to act", said Mr Duncan Smith.

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

Regime change fears

But Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy argued that all efforts should focused on restarting weapons inspections in Iraq.

He warned against "precipitate" action on Iraq, without the backing of the United Nations.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy is worried about the UK's moral authority
Mr Kennedy also expressed "deep concern" about the "ill-defined" concept of "regime change" in Iraq.

Among some highly critical Labour rebels was Glasgow MP George Galloway, a regular visitor to Iraq, who 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."

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.

Former Labour cabinet minister Chris Smith was among those who highlighted the dangers of "go-it-alone" American action.

Mr Smith urged the government only to take action specifically endorsed by the UN.

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

But other MPs suggested Mr Blair would support a US-led action even without UN backing.

Militancy concern

Opposition to force was not confined to the Labour and Lib Dem benches.

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.

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, a rise of Islamic fundamentalism could destabilise the Middle East.

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The BBC's Ben Brown
"The dossier doesn't contain many surprises"
The BBC's Sean Curran
"A confusing end to a long parliamentary day"

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See also:

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