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British Parliament Approves Use of Troops in Iraq - 2003-03-19


The British Parliament has voted to give Prime Minister Tony Blair approval to send British troops on an invasion to disarm Iraq. The vote came after lengthy and emotional debate Tuesday.

The parliament voted late Tuesday by a three-to-one margin authorizing use of what it called "all necessary means" to disarm Iraq. The vote clears the way for about 45,000 British military personnel to join an invasion of Iraq if it is ordered.

Moments before the historic vote, a two-thirds majority in the parliament defeated an amendment that said the case for war had not been made.

The votes should bolster Prime Minister Blair, who fought hard to put down a major revolt among members of parliament from his Labor Party. In the end, about one-third of his party did vote against him, and three ministers have resigned.

Ahead of the votes, Mr. Blair laid out the difficult choice lawmakers faced. "This is a tough choice indeed. But it is also a stark one: to stand British troops down now and turn back or to hold firm to the course that we have set," he said. "So it could hardly be more important. It will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation."

Helping Mr. Blair prevail in parliament were the votes of a large number of lawmakers from the opposition Conservative Party. The Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, said the Iraq crisis transcends politics. "There are, I believe, matters which rise above party politics," he said. "It is the duty of the government to act in the national interest. And it is the duty, Mr. Speaker, of the opposition to support it when it does so."

One of the main opponents of Mr. Blair's Iraq policy is the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy. He laid out the case of those opposed to attacking Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"Much as they detest Saddam's brutality, they are not persuaded that the case has been made adequately at this point for war. They are worried about this doctrine, this new doctrine of regime change," said Mr. Kennedy. "They are wary of the motives of the Bush administration, and they do not like to see Britain separate from its natural international allies."

The vote in parliament came as a new poll was released by Independent Television News, showing that nearly half of Britons now support a war against Iraq without United Nations backing, up from about one-quarter who held that view a few weeks ago.