Published November 25, 2002
LONDON – Britain's Parliament declared its support Monday for the U.N. resolution on Iraq, despite rumblings of dissent over the manner in which military action would be decided.
The decision came after Prime Minister Tony Blair warned that Saddam Hussein would face "serious consequences" if he denies that Iraq possesses banned weapons.
"We have no doubt he does have weapons of mass destruction. So let's wait and see what he actually says," Blair told a news conference.
After five hours debate in the House of Commons, a motion by Prime Minister Tony Blair's government in favor of U.N. Resolution 1441 was approved without a vote when the legislators called out their approval with a shout of "Aye."
Shortly before, an amendment requiring parliamentary approval for any deployment of British troops -- and urging a new Security Council mandate for military action to enforce Resolution 1441 -- was defeated by 452 votes to 85.
Among the 85 supporters of the opposition Liberal Democrat amendment were 32 rebellious members of Prime Minister Tony Blair's own Labor Party.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Commons it would be "utterly irresponsible" to offer legislators a vote to pre-approve military action if it would put lives of British forces at risk.
"Any decision to take military action will be put before the House as soon as possible after it has been taken by the government," he said.
He said that he hoped it would be before any military engagement, but said, "there are some circumstances in which the safety of our forces requires an element of surprise."
The resolution requires Iraq to provide details by Dec. 8 on its stocks and programs of developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
A contingent of U.N. weapons inspectors arrived in Baghdad hours earlier -- the first in Iraq in four years -- prepared to begin checking Saddam Hussein's compliance with the U.N.'s demands.
There is a vocal minority of dissenters within the Labor Party and in the main opposition parties,some of whom oppose military action outright.
Anti-war Labor legislator Neil Gerrard said Monday night that he was "fundamentally opposed" to an attack on Iraq.
"It could have devastating consequences for the whole of the Middle East region," he told the Commons.
Straw said Britain would prefer to see a second U.N. Security Council resolution before military action if there were a material breach of the U.N. conditions.
But he recognized that the resolution did not stipulate a second resolution to authorize military action, and indicated Britain could join the United States in taking action against Iraq without further U.N. action.
The United Nations had offered a peaceful way out for Iraq, with military action to be taken only as a last resort, Straw said.
"No decision on military action has yet been taken, and I fervently hope none will be necessary," he said.
The government had been taking steps to ensure its forces were ready if needed, he told the Commons.
"As the United Nations process moves forward so should our preparedness for military action in the event this process fails," he said. "For that threat to remain credible it is crucial that we make proper preparations," Straw said. ..."The more prepared we are, the greater the chance of full compliance by Saddam without the use of force."
He described a "material breach" as "something significant -- some behavior or pattern of behavior, which is serious."
This could include serious obstruction of the inspectors, intimidation of witnesses or something showing Iraq's intention not to comply with U.N. demands.
Kenneth Clarke of the opposition Conservative Party asked if Iraq denied that it had any weapons of mass destruction, would that statement itself constitute a material breach of the U.N. resolution.
"I don't anticipate that we will be served up with the usual mantra from Iraq that they have no weapons of mass destruction," Straw said.