Labour on warpath over Iraq
Anti-war rebels in Britain's ruling Labour Party said yesterday Prime Minister Tony Blair had lied to justify invading Iraq and accused him of creating a "wasteland" in the name of peace. Angered at being deprived of a chance to vote on the Iraq war at their annual conference, activists queued up to criticise the military action which Blair has defiantly defended.
"We were told there were weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed at 45 minutes' notice," parliamentarian Alice Mahon said. "We were lied to. There is no delicate way of putting it. We can't have a vote on it today and that is a disgrace."
Blair's popularity has plunged since the conflict which he has conceded split the world and angered many in his party. But he said he would take the same decision again.
"I know this thing is tremendously divisive, because a lot of people feel the war in Iraq was just simply and plainly wrong, and I don't think I'll ever persuade people about that," he told BBC radio yesterday.
This year's party conference comes at the darkest time of Blair's six-year rule. His trust ratings have plummeted as a failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - his main justification for military action - has fuelled doubts over his case for war.
"In Iraq we have destroyed a country and called it liberation. We have created a wasteland and called it peace," said Jimmy Elsby, a member of Labour's national executive body.
Mick Hogg, whose RMT trade union campaigned in vain for the conference to debate a motion criticising the US - invasion of Iraq, said Britons were misled over the case for a war which was now offering rich dividends for US businesses.
"It's a tragedy that Labour, the party of peace, has taken us to war for reasons that have simply proved to be untrue," he said. "First you bomb them into submission, then with a nod and a wink you hand the contract for reconstruction to your mates."
But Blair won strong backing from Ann Clwyd, a Labour lawmaker who campaigned for a quarter of a century against human rights abuses in Saddam's Iraq.
Choking back tears, she said she had watched skeletons dug up from a mass grave south of Baghdad on a recent visit.
Clwyd won a standing ovation after saying she had supported "regime change" in Iraq - a policy championed by US President George W Bush but deemed illegal by most Labour members - for 20 years.
"Tony Blair did the moral and courageous thing in destroying the evil and the terrorism that was Saddam Hussein," she said.
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