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Congress, Left seek anti-war message

New Delhi, March 10: As the US appeared unrelenting in its plans to storm Iraq a second time, the Congress and the Left parties today asked the Centre to send out a clear anti-war message from India.

“The war clouds are gathering over Iraq. If war breaks out, it will affect India and the world. The government has made divergent statements on the issue,” Shivraj Patil, Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, said in the House today.

“It is necessary for the Prime Minister to come to the House and make an unambiguous statement,” he said.

Patil’s push for a debate in the House on Iraq came ahead of an all-party meeting that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee convened during the day to brief political leaders on the issue.

Stating the situation was “very serious”, Patil said Vajpayee should spell out in the House his government’s position on several crucial issues involved in the Iraqi crisis.

Patil wanted the Prime Minister to shed light on what the government thought of the US demand for regime change in Iraq and how it viewed the American proposal for a second resolution from the UN Security Council authorising use of force against Iraq.

Among the other things he wanted clarified were the Centre’s views on the US deadline for Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction, fate of terrorism as a result of the American action against Iraq, and the Centre’s contingency plans in the event of a war.

Going a step further, Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said the House should pass a resolution opposing war against Iraq. He felt the Vajpayee government’s position appeared to be guided by the US.

CPM member Somnath Chatterjee endorsed Das Munshi’s suggestion on adopting an anti-war resolution.

BJP chief whip Vijay Kumar Malhotra took exception to the Congress charge that the Centre was being guided by the US on the Iraq issue. He dubbed as “politically motivated” Patil’s move to raise the matter ahead of the all-party meeting. Reacting to Das Munshi’s charge, Malhotra said it was the Congress that was guided by the US.

He taunted the Congress benches, asking whether their leader Sonia Gandhi had made any statement on the Iraq issue.

Heated exchanges between the Congress and the treasury benches followed, with Das Munshi saying “Malhora does not read newspapers”.

Speaker Manohar Joshi intervened to bring the situation under control and said the “issue was very serious and important”. It was not a partisan political issue, he said, and urged members to tread cautiously and avoid confrontation over Iraq.

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