Britain's Tony Blair tries to rally lawmakers ahead of Commons vote on Iraq
Tuesday, March 18th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
LONDON (AP) _ Prime Minister Tony Blair worked furiously Tuesday to win the backing of a majority of his party for military action against Iraq, as two more government ministers resigned over the crisis.
The government has asked the House of Commons to support its decision to join with the United States and use â€œall means necessaryâ€ to strip Saddam Hussein of any weapons of mass destruction. The motion was to be debated Tuesday.
Rebels in Blair's governing Labor Party were backing an amendment declaring that the case for war â€œhas not yet been established.â€ In a similar parliamentary showdown last month, a third of Labor lawmakers voted against the government.
Blair does not need parliamentary approval to take Britain into war. And in any case, he was confident of winning the support of a majority of Parliament. He was counting on the votes of the opposition Conservatives to carry the government's motion by a comfortable margin.
But another rebellion within his ranks would be a major embarrassment for Blair at a time when many Britons oppose a war without U.N. backing.
The revolt escalated Monday when senior Cabinet minister Rob Cook quit the government, saying he could not support a war without international agreement or domestic support.
On Tuesday, Lord Hunt resigned as a junior health minister and John Denham stepped down as a Home Office minister.
â€œI have agonized over this issue for many weeks,â€ Hunt told BBC radio, adding that he did not support â€œthe pre-emptive action which is going to be taken without broad international support or indeed the clear support of the British people.â€
However, Blair won support Tuesday from Clare Short, a Cabinet minister who had threatened to resign if war was not authorized by the United Nations. Short, who had accused the prime minister of pursuing a â€œdeeply recklessâ€ policy, announced that she would vote for the government and remain as secretary for international development, in charge of Britain's aid agency.
A poll published Tuesday in The Guardian newspaper found that support for military action to disarm Saddam has risen by 9 percentage points since February to 38 percent, while opposition fell 8 points to 44 percent.
Many Labor lawmakers say war is not justified. The party's left wing is particularly unhappy about Blair's support for Bush.