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Blair seeks UK support for war

British troops are expected to join any U.S.-led attack on Iraq.
British troops are expected to join any U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

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start quoteThe innocent die every day in Iraq as victims of Saddam.end quote
-- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

LONDON, England -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to persuade his party on Tuesday to back him in any future war with Iraq.

Blair set out the case for war in a statement to the House of Commons, but many in his ruling Labour Party oppose military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime.

The prime minister told MPs that U.N. weapons inspectors would continue their work, but he added: "This time Saddam must understand. And now is the time for him to decide -- passive rather than active cooperation will not do."

Senior figures and backbench MPs have expressed opposition to war but will not get the chance to vote on whether Britain should join a U.S.-led campaign in Iraq.

Blair's address came a day after the UK put its name to a second U.N. Security Council draft resolution that would confirm Baghdad has not fulfilled its obligations under resolution 1441 to disarm and cooperate with weapons inspectors. (Rival proposals)

He said: "Resolution 1441 called for full, unconditional immediate compliance. Anything less will not do.

"We are prepared to go the extra step to disarm Iraq peacefully but it cannot happen without Saddam's active cooperation.

"If he refuses to cooperate and we fail to act, what then? It would not be the road to peace but a failure and only mean that when conflict does come it will be more bloody and less certain."

As the prime minister was outlining his case, Turkey was deciding whether to allow U.S. troops onto its soil for a possible second front in an Iraq war. (Turkish front)

Opposition Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy accused Blair and the U.S. of putting down a "pre-emptive" draft resolution and said a Franco-German plan giving weapons inspectors more time was a better way forward.

Blair welcomed the move announced Monday by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but said time was not the issue.

"The issue ... is will. If Saddam is willing to genuinely cooperate, the inspectors should have as much time as they want. But if he is not willing to cooperate, time will not help," Blair said.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told MPs Saddam Hussein was "a tyrant who tortures and murders his own people and who poses a threat to the safety and stability of the Middle East".

But he asked detailed questions seeking reassurance that British troops were properly equipped for any conflict and that planning had gone into the shape of a post-war Iraq.

Blair: "Saddam can ... leave the country but he cannot avoid disarmament."

The House of Commons will vote on the issue Wednesday and dozens of Labour rebels are expected to back an amendment to the government motion, arguing that the case for military action is "as yet unproven." However, Blair is not thought to be in any danger because of his large majority.

The prime minister has been attempting to portray himself as a reluctant warrior during meetings with the pope and religious leaders in Britain, saying the path to war or peace will ultimately be decided by Saddam.

Blair told the Commons: "I know the innocent as well as the guilty die in any war, but let us not forget those who die in Iraq because of Saddam Hussein.

"The innocent die every day in Iraq as victims of Saddam."

Despite his staunch support for U.S. policy on Iraq, Blair has been hounded at home by anti-war MPs, and more than 750,000 people joined a peace march in February echoing public opinion.

Opinion polls indicate most Britons would be opposed to war without a second U.N. resolution.

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