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Blair faces revolt over Iraq  


 
 By Katherine Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tony Blair could suffer a major revolt
from within the Labour Party when he lays out his hardline stance on
disarming Iraq before a divided parliament today.

As Britain and the United States table a second United Nations
resolution which could set the stage for war against Iraq, Blair is set
for a rough ride when he addresses parliament on Tuesday and at a full
debate and vote on Wednesday.

With Labour split over a possible war and the public hostile to an
attack, the vote in the House of Commons could deal a further blow to
Blair`s precarious position at home over Iraq.

In a bid to skirt opposition to war, the government will carefully word
the debate`s motion to focus on Britain`s approach to dealing with Iraq
through the U.N., rather than asking parliament to support military
action.

"Wednesday`s motion will confirm the commitment of the government and of
the House to our strategy of handling the Iraq crisis through the United
Nations," cabinet minister Robin Cook said on Monday.

Cook said the debate`s motion would neither be a "trap" nor an attempt
to fudge the issue but members of parliament (MPs) were already
grumbling that they were being set up.

"No MP need fear that support of it will be interpreted as support for
any specific military action," Cook told parliament.

In November, the Commons voted to support U.N. resolution 1441, which
calls on Saddam to disarm. Blair has interpreted that vote as broad
parliamentary backing for military action if Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein fails to cooperate.

Referring to November`s vote, Labour`s Donald Anderson said "the
government was seeking to put too much weight on that".

Up to 100 of Labour`s 410 MPs are believed to be mulling rebellion and
some 120 MPs, mostly from Labour, have already signed up to a Commons
motion that puts four conditions on sending British forces to Iraq.

Those are that there is clear evidence that Iraq poses an imminent
threat to peace, that the House of Commons is allowed to authorise
military action, that any attack has U.N. backing and that all other
policy options have been exhausted.

That matches the stance of countries such as Germany, France and Russia
who want U.N. weapons inspectors and diplomacy to be given more time.

Labour MPs could table an amendment to Wednesday`s motion opposing
military action. Fortunately for Blair, the opposition Conservative
Party are backing his stance on Iraq and such an amendment would be
defeated.

But it would still send a clear message to Blair who is aware that his
once soaring popularity and even his premiership could be on the line
over Iraq.

Close to one million people demonstrated against war in London earlier
this month. And a Guardian/ICM poll last week showed Blair`s approval
rating had plummeted, with 55 percent of people disapproving of the way
he does his job.