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British Lawmakers Back Blair on Iraq - 2003-02-26

The British House of Commons has endorsed Prime Minister Tony Blair's pro-U.S. stance to disarm Iraq by force, if needed, voting to support his handling of the crisis and rejecting his opponent's argument that the case for war has not been made. But Mr. Blair has faced the biggest Labor Party revolt in his six-year tenure.

With the help of members of the rival Conservative party, Mr. Blair secured a majority vote in support of his handling of the crisis over Iraq's disarmament. A government motion giving Iraq one last chance to disarm was adopted with 434 in favor, with 124 against. An amendment stating that the case for war had not been made was defeated by 393 votes to 199. One-third of Mr. Blair's 410 Labor party lawmakers voted against his Iraq policy.

Mr. Blair started the debate by appealing to the House of Commons to support his tough position on Iraq. "I think the case we have set out in respect of Iraq is a good case," said the prime minister. "I hope that if people listen to it and study it in detail, they will accept that if we do have to act and go to war, it will not be because we want to, but because of the breaches by Saddam Hussein of U.N. resolutions."

On Monday, Britain submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council that would in effect authorize the use of military force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for failure to disarm.

Analysts say the size of the minority may influence the course of British diplomacy at the United Nations. Junior members of parliament, known as backbenchers, rallied around an amendment arguing the case for military action is as yet unproven. Former Labor cabinet minister Chris Smith said he submitted the amendment in the hopes of slowing the momentum to war.

"I do not take the view that military action is never ever likely to be required. There may well be a time when it is necessary," admitted Mr. Smith. "But at the moment the timetable appears to be determined by the decisions of the president of the United States and not by the logic of events."

Foreign Minister Jack Straw told British lawmakers that the government was not seeking a mandate for war at this stage, but the time of reckoning on disarming Iraq was approaching. "We are now close to the 'crunch point.' Saddam must either embark immediately on voluntary and full disarmament or the Security Council has to face up to its responsibility to see that he is disarmed by force," said Mr. Straw. "That's the truth. That's the reality."

To keep the bulk of his Labor delegation behind him, analysts say, Mr. Blair must get a second U.N. resolution authorizing military action. Mr. Blair says he is confident this will happen.

The majority of Britons do not support a war against Iraq without U.N. backing.