- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

LONDON Opposition to a war against Iraq is stiffening both in political circles and among average voters in Britain, raising the prospect that a U.S. operation to oust Saddam Hussein might have to be conducted without America's stoutest ally.
More than two-thirds of those interviewed for an opinion poll published yesterday in the Daily Telegraph said they opposed an attack on Iraq "in present circumstances," and more than half said they feared that Prime Minister Tony Blair was becoming President Bush's "poodle."
The Telegraph said the survey suggested that Mr. Blair, the most outspoken supporter among European leaders of U.S. demands for a regime change in Baghdad, "would have to pay a heavy price at the ballot box if he took Britain into war."
If public anger forced Britain to abandon reported plans to contribute 30,000 troops to a second Gulf campaign, the United States would find itself very short of allies.
A poll published in France's Journal du Dimanche over the weekend showed more than 75 percent of French voters opposing any involvement in a war on Iraq, even if the United Nations sanctioned it.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, facing an uphill battle for re-election next month, has told his supporters that he "can only warn against" military intervention and that "under my leadership, Germany will not be available for adventures."
Saudi Arabia, a key ally in the 1991 Persian Gulf war against Iraq, said last week that it will not allow any part of its territory to be used for a new war on Saddam. Turkey, another essential ally in the region, faces elections later this year in which an Islamist party is the front-runner.
In Britain, Mr. Blair faces outright rebellion from the hard left and even some senior centrists, who are planning a series of disruptions at his Labor Party convention next month, with emergency resolutions demanding that the government oppose any U.S.-led war against the Iraqi leader.
Mr. Blair does not have to abide by such resolutions, but their very introduction and the support they are likely to receive from the rank and file could constitute a serious embarrassment.
What is possibly more worrying for him is that more than 100 members of Parliament from his own party have signed a petition opposing military intervention in Iraq. Also, at least one minister in his Cabinet has threatened to resign in protest if British troops and tanks roll in; similar action is expected from other ministers.
Political analysts say that in the event of a war, International Development Secretary Clare Short is almost certain to quit and that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Robin Cook, former foreign secretary and current leader of the House of Commons, could follow suit.
"There is a very real danger of Cabinet resignations if the prime minister presses forward," a former Cabinet member said.
Mr. Blair, who himself is said to have been miffed over being "kept in the dark" about details of U.S. plans for invasion, has been reported in several newspapers to be wavering in his support for a war reports his spokesman denies.
The Times of London quoted Cabinet sources as disclosing that Mr. Blair "has no detailed knowledge of American intentions" against Saddam. Other reports said the prime minister had been "startled" by a secret internal poll laying out the extent of opposition in Britain over a strike against Iraq.
The Daily Telegraph survey followed an earlier poll of 1,001 persons conducted from Aug. 2 to 4 that found 52 percent opposed to British military involvement, 34 percent in favor, and 14 percent undecided.
Former Cabinet Minister Peter Mandelson said in an interview published yesterday in the Times that public opinion was being "wound up by armchair generals focusing on the risks of action rather than the consequences of failing to do anything."
That, and conflicting signals from the White House, is "creating an unknown quantity which people understandably at this stage are increasingly worried about," he said.
Nevertheless, opposition continues to grow. Rowan Williams, the new archbishop of Canterbury, was among a number of religious leaders in Britain who signed a petition presented to Mr. Blair's office declaring that an attack on Iraq would be "immoral and illegal."
Leaders of nine British trade unions have drafted a letter objecting to "George W. Bush's push for military action against Iraq," saying "such a war would be outside international law and bring further instability to the entire region."
The rebellion shows no signs of easing, and it could become even more widespread with the approach of spring, which some military experts see as the most likely time for an attack against Saddam.

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