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Blair Works to Gain Support on Iraq Policy - 2003-03-18

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on a reluctant parliament to support his decision to participate in an attack on Iraq. Mr. Blair wants that support even if there is no U.N. authorization if Saddam Hussein and his sons do not leave the country by Wednesday night.

Prime Minister Blair told parliament it is ridiculous to believe that the Iraqi president has destroyed his weapons of mass destruction, or will do so voluntarily.

"We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years, contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence, he decided unilaterally to destroy these weapons," he said. "I say such a claim is palpably absurd."

Mr. Blair went through a litany of charges against the Iraqi leader, saying he has defied U.N. Security Council resolutions for the last 12 years. He said Iraq has only made limited concessions to the international community, and only under the threat of force.

For that reason, the British prime minister was sharply critical of France for saying it would veto any resolution that called for the use of force. He said the French position ended any chance of providing more time for diplomacy and further weapons inspections.

"The tragedy is this, that as a result of that, the world has to learn the lesson all over again, that weakness in the face of a tyrant with a threat, is the surest way not to peace but to conflict," said Mr. Blair.

Mr. Blair said the international community has already waited too long for Iraq to disarm. He said there is no reason to wait any longer, with British and American troops sitting in the desert in difficult conditions and France vowing not to change its position.

Mr. Blair faces a revolt by as many as 200 parliament members from his own Labor Party, who are expected to vote against a resolution of support when a vote is held late Tuesday evening. They believe Britain should not go to war without specific U.N. authorization. One senior member of his cabinet, and two junior members, have resigned over the issue. Analysts say if the war goes badly, Mr. Blair's political future could be in jeopardy.

But the prime minister's resolution is expected to be approved, thanks to strong support from the main opposition party, the Conservatives, and their leader Iain Duncan Smith.

"Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who tortures and murders his own people," said Duncan Smith. "He poses a threat to the safety and stability of the Middle East. And he is in complete breech of his obligations to the United Nations, as well as to the international community. But the main reason we will be voting tonight is that this is in the British national interest."

The opposition leader said the Iraqi president has the ability and the mentality to sponsor attacks on British targets.

With more than 40,000 troops in the Gulf, Britain is poised to play a significant role in any attack on Iraq.