Iraq Bombings: Heath supports Labour rebels

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The Independent Online
SIR EDWARD HEATH joined Labour dissidents yesterday in condemning the bombing of Iraq as "dubious" and criticised Tony Blair for giving unequivocal support to President Bill Clinton for the offensive.

It came as Mr Blair faced mounting criticism of the bombing. The Christmas recess robbed the rebels of any chance to mobilise their forces at Westminster against the bombing, but they claimed that more Labour MPs would be under pressure to come out against the attacks this weekend from their constituency parties.

George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, signalled a continued strategy of bombing - replacing the use of UN inspectors - to destroy Saddam Hussein's military might, including the Republican Guard, which has helped sustained him in power. "We are not going to go away," he said.

But there could be growing dissent, if the bombing is prolonged. Even some supporters said there would be a shift in opinion, if there were casualties among British forces in the Gulf.

Sir Edward's intervention on BBC radio is likely to make Labour MPs more uncomfortable. The former Tory prime minister criticised the British and American leaders for failing to set out clear objectives for the use of force, and made it clear that he was against giving the US uncritical support.

"I believe we should always keep separate on these things. The whole setting of this enterprise has been so dubious, especially when the President of the United States has got his own domestic problems. We are going to see them going on together," he said.

Sir Edward, who met President Saddam during the Gulf War to release hostages, said the aims had not been clearly defined."How long are they going to keep on? They don't even know whether they are going to go on through Ramadan. Are they aiming at dethroning Saddam Hussein - if so, what happens if they don't? All these are open questions."

Left-wing Labour opponents of the bombing in Iraq were still seething about the whips' ploy which stopped them voting against the Government on Thursday night following a Commons debate. Tam Dalyell said the refusal to put tellers on for a late-night vote had infuriated Labour MPs who had wanted to register a protest against the Government. "I don't think matters of peace and war are matters for parliamentary games or wheezes," he said.

But Mr Dalyell targeted the "Blair Babes" for special criticism. His remarks are certain to upset some of the women MPs who have supported the action, but Mr Dalyell said it underlined the anger he felt at the way the Government had handled the Commons.

"If anybody thinks that women are more compassionate than men when they are near politics, they had better think again," he said. "With the honourable exception of Alice Mahon (Labour MP for Halifax), who cannot sensibly be described as a Blair Babe, what are they doing? I think they don't want to make up their minds."

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