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Labor ‘Rebels’ to Embarrass UK's Blair over Iraq
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday faces potentially the biggest rebellion yet from within his ruling Labor Party in a parliamentary debate over his pro-American hawkish stance on Iraq.

Up to 100 of Labor's total 410 legislators (MPs) in the British parliament's lower chamber are backing an amendment -- for what is bound to be a fiery debate -- stating that "the case for military action against Iraq is yet unproven."

It is one of three "anti-war" amendments put forward by Labor "rebels" and opposition Liberal Democrats determined to embarrass Blair, who is staunchly backing US leader George W. Bush's hard line against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Aware of high domestic public opposition to a US/British-led war against Iraq without international endorsement, the government has put forward a carefully-worded motion backing UN demands for Iraqi disarmament.

It does not mention the possibility of war.

London and Washington have said Saddam has just weeks left to disarm before they will seek a vote on a new UN resolution effectively authorizing military action.

"Mr Blair's spin that he is launching a last chance for peace and all that garbage, when everyone knows he and Bush are bent on war, has not worked," one Labor "rebel," George Galloway, told Reuters.

"Blair has hopelessly underestimated his opponents."

In a show of political boldness not in keeping with his prior reputation as a man governed by opinion polls and focus groups, Blair is clearly prepared to brave out disgruntlement within his party and sliding popularity among the public.

International Divisions

Convinced of the moral rectitude of disarming Saddam, Blair believes public opinion will rally round if a second UN resolution is passed.

But he and Bush face a tall order to achieve that, given opposition from international heavyweights like France, Germany and Russia, and might eventually be forced to go it alone in what Washington has termed a "coalition of the willing."

That could be make or break for Blair, in power since 1997.

"If he gets the second resolution, then I think he is home and dry," pollster and political analyst Peter Kellner told Reuters. "If not, it could be extremely difficult. If he goes into war without clear public backing, then he absolutely needs a very fast, painless victory to recover."

Fortunately for Blair, while up to a quarter of his own party legislators are rebelling, the opposition Conservative Party -- which took Britain into conflict with Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War -- are backing him.

But even though he will not be defeated in Wednesday's vote, expected in the early evening, a large defection would be a hurtful political slap in the face and fuel many Britons' impression of a man swimming against the tide of public opinion.

A million people took to the streets of London just over a week ago for an anti-war rally, while a poll last week showed Blair's approval rating plummeting, with 55 percent of people disapproving of the way he does his job.

(China Daily February 26, 2003)

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