- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

LONDON Prime Minister Tony Blair faced the prospect yesterday of taking the nation to war with the most divided Parliament since the Suez crisis of 1956 after nearly 200 lawmakers from all parties opposed early military action against Iraq.
An impassioned six-hour House of Commons debate on the Iraq crisis ended with the biggest rebellion Mr. Blair has faced since coming to power in 1997.
A cross-party amendment declaring the case for military action against Saddam Hussein "as yet unproven" received 199 votes nearly a third of the total strength of the Commons.
The anti-war vote was much bigger than the government expected, with 122 lawmakers from Mr. Blair's Labor Party defying strict orders to vote against the amendment.
They were joined by 13 members of the Conservative Party and 52 lawmakers from the Liberal Democrats and Nationalist parties from Scotland and Wales.
Although the amendment was defeated by 194 votes, the opposition to what Mr. Blair's critics call a "rush to war" has gained strength significantly. The last time the Commons voted on Iraq a month ago, 53 lawmakers opposed military action.
A separate amendment emphasizing that Iraq had a final opportunity to disarm peacefully, and stressing that Britain was working through the United Nations, was approved by 434 votes to 124, a majority of 310.
Fifty-nine Labor lawmakers defied the party on the second vote.
The rebellion on the anti-war amendment was the biggest of Mr. Blair's prime ministership, easily outstripping the previous total of 67 Labor lawmakers who opposed disability benefit cuts in May 1999.
It was a damaging blow to the authority of the prime minister when he could be only weeks away from sending British forces to war.
The action underlined the fact that Mr. Blair is taking the biggest gamble of his career by supporting President Bush's hawkish stance on Iraq.
Some lawmakers compared the split over Iraq to the Suez crisis of 1956, which divided Britain and led to the resignation of Conservative Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
The rebellion is believed to be the biggest by members of a governing party in recent political history.
Mr. Blair told the Commons he was working "flat out" to secure a second U.N. resolution authorizing military action.
The mood of the House of Commons was apprehensive about the prospects of the looming conflict.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was given a rough ride by lawmakers who argued that the government was "rushing" toward military action before efforts to disarm Saddam peacefully had run their course.
Mr. Straw said it was close to the "crunch point" for Iraq as both inspections and containment had failed to rein in the Iraqi dictator.


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