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Wednesday, 20 November, 2002, 15:41 GMT
US requests UK troops for Iraq
UN vehicle in Baghdad
UN weapons inspectors begin arriving in Baghdad
US President George Bush has asked 60 different countries if they would be willing to provide troops for a possible war against Saddam Hussein, UK Prime MinisterTony Blair has revealed.

The UK had received the same "general request" from America as everyone else, Mr Blair told MPs.


We would be part of any coalition to make sure that the will of the UN was upheld

Tony Blair
But the situation was not at the stage where Washington was asking for specific numbers of troops for specific tasks, he said.

Mr Blair continued: "If there was to be a breach of the UN resolution and we go to military action in circumstances we thought were justified, we would be part of any coalition to make sure that the will of the UN was upheld."

That had always been the UK Government's position, he added.

Downing Street later revealed the request had come from the US ambassador in a meeting with Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon last Monday.

Earlier, Mr Hoon said no decisions had been made on providing troops.

He refused to give any further details about the US request but said he might reveal more during a House of Commons debate on the Iraq crisis on Monday.

Test of opinion

The debate will give the government its greatest test yet of support amongst Labour MPs over the handling of the Iraq crisis.

The House of Commons is to debate the UN Security Council resolution which demanded the readmission of weapons inspectors to Iraq but the precise wording of the motion has yet to be announced.

Labour MPs have already been issued with a three-line whip - a party's strongest exertion of parliamentary discipline - when they vote.

But a sizeable rebellion by anti-war Labour backbenchers is thought likely to take place, however the motion is framed.

Discussions with Blair offered

Government business managers are nervous about the scale of the rebellion, with some backbenchers being offered private meetings with Mr Blair to discuss their concerns ahead of Monday's debate.

Criticism of the government's position on the Iraq crisis ranges beyond the "usual suspects" and includes MPs and former ministers on the right and left of the party.

Some MPs fear the US will use the UN resolution to justify military action against Saddam Hussein or an invasion of Iraq without recourse to any further international sanction explicitly backing the use of force.

Their concerns have been fanned by the alleged US "smear campaign" against Hans Blix, head of the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq.

More than 50 MPs used a technical motion in September to register their opposition to Mr Blair's Iraq policy.

A number of likely rebel MPs told BBC News Online that for Monday's debate, they hope to force an amendment requiring the issue to go back to the UN Security Council before any attack on Iraq.

Unilateral action

Just last week International Development Secretary Clare Short signalled cabinet tensions on the subject when she warned that the UN Security Council alone should decide whether to take military action against Iraq.

But Mr Blair and US President George W Bush have insisted they cannot rule out the possibility of taking unilateral action.

Meanwhile, Iraq has promised to meet the 8 December deadline for declaring whether it still holds any weapons of mass destruction.

Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iraqi officials made the commitment during talks on Monday night with the UN inspection team.

Meeting the deadline is one of the key conditions laid down in the UN resolution.

Earlier, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) threatened legal action against the UK government over the threat of war with Iraq.

The organisation is demanding a written guarantee the UK will not invade Iraq without explicit United Nations backing.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Shukman
"It's all about putting pressure on Saddam"

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See also:

25 Sep 02 | Politics
19 Nov 02 | Politics
19 Nov 02 | Middle East
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