- Associated Press - Friday, March 16, 2018

LONDON (AP) - The United States and other allies have united behind the U.K. government in blaming Russia for the nerve-agent poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. But Britain’s main opposition party is split over how firmly to point the finger at Moscow.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn warned Friday that politicians shouldn’t “rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police,” and evoked the flawed intelligence used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Corbyn said it is possible that “Russian mafia-like groups,” rather than the Russian state, were responsible for the attack that has left the Skripals in critical condition.

“In my years in Parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgments too many times,” Corbyn said, mentioning British claims before the Iraq War that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons were ever found.

Corbyn’s stance has reopened a rift between the veteran left-winger - who has spent his career criticizing Western foreign policy - and Labour lawmakers on the center and right of the social democratic party.

More than 30 Labour legislators have signed a motion declaring support for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government in its view that there is no plausible alternative explanation, other than Russian responsibility, for the attack in the English city of Salisbury.

The motion “unequivocally accepts the Russian state’s culpability for the poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal” and supports the government’s response, which included expelling 23 Russian diplomats and cutting off high-level contacts with Moscow.

Corbyn said he supported the expulsions, but added that “measures to tackle the oligarchs and their loot would have a far greater impact on Russia’s elite than limited tit-for-tat expulsions.”

Labour lawmaker Stephen Kinnock, a critic of Corbyn, said there was “a fundamental need for a debate in our party about our world view.”

He said he was among Labour members who thought organizations like NATO and the European Union “are fundamentally a force for good.”

“And there are others in our party who take another view,” Kinnock told the BBC.

Labour legislator Chris Williamson, a Corbyn ally, called the critics “irrelevant malcontents” who were trying to undermine the party leader.

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