Attack on Iraq would backfire, says Mowlam

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The former cabinet minister Mo Mowlam has warned George Bush and Tony Blair that their plans to launch military action against Iraq will backfire badly.

Writing in The Independent today, Ms Mowlam says it would be deeply counter-productive to bomb Iraq, and criticises the US President for calling Iraq, Iran and North Korea an "axis of evil".

Ms Mowlam, who was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 1997 to 1999, says the response to the growing crisis in the Middle East should be to address the question of Iran and Iraq – but not to label them part of an "axis of evil" and to bomb them. "Such actions would only result in more deaths and increased support for violent action by more people – the exact reverse of the stated policy of those who would be carrying out the actions," she warns.

She admits it is difficult to see what can be done about Iraq, suggesting it might be "a case of waiting for Saddam to die". In contrast, she says, the West should forge closer links with the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, and support his efforts to modernise the country.

Ms Mowlam says that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "very different" from the sectarian divide in Ulster. She explains that all the countries taking an interest in Northern Ireland are committed to the same outcome, while in the Middle East the interested countries want peace but view the conflict differently. "The US has always been a strong supporter of the Israeli state. We in the past were seen as pro-Arab, but we are now wavering between the two. Western Europe as a whole has always been more pro-Palestine. And the surrounding Middle East countries to varying degrees have been pro-Palestine," she writes.

Based on her experience in Northern Ireland, Ms Mowlam believes the answer to this "very complicated and exceedingly messy conflict" is to secure Israel's recognition that a Palestinian state would be part of any final agreement. "If the outlines of a final settlement can be agreed upon, the rationale for the intifada becomes less clear and the violence by the Israelis more difficult to defend," she says.

Ms Mowlam's views on Iraq echo the concern among Labour MPs, 87 of whom have signed a Commons motion expressing their "deep unease". Further disquiet about Mr Blair's handling of the issue surfaced yesterday at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

In the Commons, Nick Palmer, the Labour MP for Broxtowe, told Mr Blair that the United Nations should be the "first port of call" for tackling President Saddam's weapons of mass destruction "so we can get the broadest possible coalition to counter this threat".

The Prime Minister said: "It is to the United Nations that we have gone constantly because of the problems of Iraq acquiring weapons of mass destruction. It is for that reason that there are many, many UN Security Council resolutions calling on Iraq to destroy those weapons and to let the inspectors back into their country to make sure they are destroyed."

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