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For British Labour Party, Iraq Remains Most Controversial Issue


Britain's role in Iraq proved to be the most contentious part of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's speech Wednesday at the annual Labour party conference held in the seaside town of Brighton.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned the Labour delegates of what he called "dark moments" ahead in Iraq.

Fighting off jeers in the conference hall, Mr. Straw said Britain's goal in Iraq remained the same; to help it build a secure, democratic and stable nation.

"None of us should underestimate the challenges that still lie ahead in Iraq," he said. "Nation-building from a violent past has never been easy. Now, let us take Germany after the war. After the war, there was great hardship and much unrest. You know, after the war in Germany, it took for years, for years of huge difficulty before any national elections could be held. In Iraq, there have been national elections in less than two years."

Earlier in the Labour conference debate, anti-war voices were heard. The deputy leader of the Transport and General Workers Union, Barry Camfield, said he supported democratic change in Iraq but that it must come directly from the Iraqi people if it is to be sustained.

"You cannot force democracy on people by means of war, invasion and occupation unless of course you intend to stay for a very long time," he said. "Let us hope the model is not the one suffered by India for three centuries. Let us bring our troops home."

On the issue of allowing Turkey into the European Union, Jack Straw strongly endorsed Turkish membership. Ankara begins negotiations with the EU next week.

"It is one of my and our highest priorities," he said. "But the test next week will be for the European Union as a whole. Like the United Nations, the EU has to change with a changing world. Turkey would lose from a 'no' decision but Europe and its people would lose even more."

Regarding Iran and its nuclear ambitions, Foreign Secretary Straw maintained that military action against Tehran is not on the agenda. And he stressed the door was still open for diplomacy with Iran.

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