Glasgow, Feb. 15 (Reuters): British Prime Minister Tony Blair, facing huge public opposition to his campaign for military action against Baghdad, tried to make a moral case by referring to Iraqis suffering under Saddam Hussein.
As millions protested worldwide against a possible attack on Iraq, Blair said the Iraqi leader was responsible for more deaths than the number of marchers expected, and later reported to have turned out, in London.
“If there are one million, that is still less than the number of people who died in the wars he started,” he told a conference of his Labour Party in the Scottish city of Glasgow before the biggest peace march in British political history.
But critics of a war over Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction said Blair still had a way to go if he was to emerge unscathed from what could be his biggest political gamble.
“He is taking a risk of considerable proportions with the loyalty of the Labour Party,” John Edmonds, the leader of the engineering union GMB, said.
Blair also warned the UN its authority would be shattered if Iraq was not disarmed soon peacefully or by force.
“If we show weakness now, if we allow the plea for more time to become just an excuse for prevarication until the moment for action passes then... the menace, and not just from Saddam, will grow,” he said. “The authority of the UN will be lost and the conflict when it comes will be more bloody.”
His remarks were a clear rebuke to Russia, France, China, Germany and others who, in a Security Council showdown yesterday, demanded more time for weapons searches and diplomacy. UN arms officials held out hope inspections were working, leading most Council members to say war was premature.
The US and Britain have warned Saddam he faces military action unless he gives up all weapons of mass destruction — which Iraq denies having — and have massed troops in the Gulf.
Blair, who is virtually isolated over Iraq in Europe, will face sceptics at an EU summit in Brussels on Monday.
But first he faced equally tough opponents in his own party, who are deeply hostile to another Gulf War, particularly if it is not authorised by a fresh UN resolution. Polls show most Britons agree.
“There are also consequences of ‘stop the war’” Blair said. “I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honour. But sometimes it is the price of leadership.” Blair got a standing ovation as he ended his speech bashing his opponents but three delegates waved “No Blood for Oil!” posters.