The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blair faces revolt in ranks
- 100 Labour MPs threaten to vote against war

London, Feb. 26 (Reuters): British Prime Minister Tony Blair braced for the largest revolt he has suffered from his war-wary Labour Party, as Parliament plunged into a heated debate on Iraq.

The government has put forward a carefully worded motion asking for backing for UN efforts to disarm Iraq which will be voted on at the end of the session. It did not, however, mention the possibility of war, which could follow within weeks.

But 100 or more Labour MPs, about one in four, are set to defy their masters, voting for an amendment which says the case for waging war is unproven. They fear they will not get another say before military action begins. That would dwarf any previous rebellion during Blair’s six years in power, although his huge Parliamentary majority and the support of opposition Conservatives will ensure he wins the vote, which is set for about 1900 GMT.

Blair is betting that political and public opinion will rally around if the Security Council passes the new resolution it circulated this week with the US and Spain which says Baghdad has missed a “final opportunity” to disarm peacefully. He tried to win over doubters, pledging to work flat out to secure a second UN resolution before any war on Iraq. “We will have support for a second resolution,” he told Parliament. “Saddam still has the opportunity if he were to take it of full compliance but so far he has not done so.”

For Blair, a big Labour revolt will add to the impression of a leader standing out dangerously on a limb. A million people took to the streets of London this month for an anti-war rally, while recent polls show Blair’s approval rating has plunged.

Feelings ran high during the debate. “There may well be a time for military action,” Chris Smith, a former minister in Blair’s cabinet, said. “But at the moment the timetable appears to be determined by the decisions of the President of the US and not by the logic of events.”

Much of the opposition to war, in the Labour Party and wider public, would melt away if a fresh UN mandate was secured. But Blair and President George W. Bush will struggle to get it, with France, Germany and Russia urging more time for weapons inspections and diplomacy to work.

US confident

The US today said it doubted either Russia or China would veto the new UN Security Council resolution designed to pave the way for war on Iraq.

The comments, made by a senior US administration official speaking on condition of anonymity, seemed to improve prospects for the resolution, although questions remained over the nine council votes it needs to pass and a possible French veto.

But with Moscow and Beijing sticking to their public opposition on war and France insisting most Council members still opposed an invasion, it remained unclear who would win the battle for political opinion, in Britain or elsewhere.

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