Healey attacks allied move to protect Shias

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RELIGIOUS leaders and veteran politicians yesterday condemned the lack of public debate on the renewed military action by allied forces to protect the Shia Muslim minority in southern Iraq, and accused Western governments of an attempt to partition the country.

The allied-imposed air exclusion zone, which forbids Iraqi aircraft to cross the 32nd parallel, was announced by President Bush last week, but there has been little debate on whether the action is morally or ethically justifiable.

Lord Healey, a former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the escalation of tension in the country was a crude attempt to assist President Bush's re-election campaign.

'There has not been an adequate debate. Although Saddam is a loathesome tyrant, there is not a great deal of evidence about what is happening in the no-fly zone,' he said.

'Two weeks ago the Pentagon said the lastest example of Iraqi military aircraft operating in the Shia area was 25 July. In fact, the United States has not found or produced any evidence or found it necessary to do so.

'My main worry now about what's happening is that its natural result will be the break up of Iraq into a new Yugoslavia. The idea that you can have a Shia area is balls. They live all over Iraq.'

Lord Healey said that the lack of debate was because people were pre-occupied with the crises in Somalia and Yugoslavia.

But a Conservative elder statesman said that there had been no public discussion because the British people did not care. 'There has been no debate. The reason is because the House of Commons has not been sitting, people have been on holiday, and because people do not care or are not caring,' he said.

The Bishop of Monmouth, Dr Rowan Williams, said the allies were attempting to 'pick up where they left off' at the end of the war against Iraq, and that the 'new hostilities would only hurt the Iraqi people. At least last time there was a clear objective, this time things seem muddled,' he said, adding that he 'did not have a clue what could be done to protect the Shia minority'.

Liaqat Hussein, president of the Bradford Council of Mosques, said debate had become meaningless because the issue was about US power. 'We have a saying that the bull belongs to the person who has the stick. The United States has the stick and so everything they say is right. But the action creates a precedent. It could be argued that the United Nations should seek to protect Northern Ireland's Catholics in the same way as the Shias. But Britain and the US have the stick,' he said.

But Israel Finestein, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said he supported the action, while hoping that it did not end in an armed clash.

Saddam 'plot', page 9