Michael Ancram, the former Conservative deputy leader, has broken ranks with his party to demand that British troops should pull out of Iraq.
Mr Ancram, who was shadow Foreign Secretary when the war broke out, yesterday compared the situation to the war in Vietnam, in remarks markedly at odds with David Cameron's insistence that troops must stay. He said: "If there is a civil war, which all the indications are that there is now, then it is not a place where we should be. We have been there for three years and done a very good reconstruction job, ourselves.
"I believe now ... with the evidence of the civil war very clear, this is the time for us with dignity and honour to get out. If we are not careful we will find ourselves between two or three opposing factions holding the ring and that is not what we went there to do."
A Conservative spoke-sman said Mr Ancram was "entitled to his views". The party had made it clear it supported remaining in Iraq.
Mr Ancram said he had been entirely consistent and had said Britain should consider pulling out of Iraq if it descended into civil war as long ago as last August. Only last month the shadow Defence Minister, Gerald Howarth, said that it would be "folly" to withdraw before Iraqi forces were able to secure the country.
But Mr Ancram said: "We have been there three years, we have done very well in our area in the south. But I believe we are now seeing a situation of civil war and I think it has always been the case that it was not for us to hold the ring in a situation of civil war.
"We went in we did a very good job there, but two very big mistakes were made, one was the disbanding of the security services in Iraq which I criticised when it happened and I think it opened the door for the insurgents. The second was the abandonment of the US post-war reconstruction plan which they never explained but which caused a lot of resentment."
Downing Street insisted that Britain was committed to "finishing the job " in Iraq. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "For the first time, we have had democratic elections in Iraq ... We have the process going on of forming a government. That government needs to be given the security in which to make politics work. The ... government has indicated that it wants us to stay to help finish that job. We are prepared to do so."
Talks were continuing yesterday aimed at breaking the deadlock over a new Iraqi administration, raising hopes that a government of national unity could be formed to avert a sectarian civil war. The majority Shia Alliance was aiming to offer other factions a new candidate for Prime Minister.Reuse content