Rebel MPs seek vote on troop deployment

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Twenty Labour MPs tabled a motion last night demanding a Commons vote before the Cabinet agrees to the US request to send British troops to the "triangle of death" near Baghdad.

Twenty Labour MPs tabled a motion last night demanding a Commons vote before the Cabinet agrees to the US request to send British troops to the "triangle of death" near Baghdad.

The MPs, including Frank Dobson, the former health secretary, angrily protested that "such a move would significantly increase the danger to British troops in Iraq". They fear America plans to attack Fallujah - possibly this weekend - to clear it of insurgents before the US elections on 2 November.

Alice Mahon, the Labour MP who tabled the rebel motion, said: "What the US is planning in Fallujah is a war crime. We could lose the general election over this. It is that serious."

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, who was savaged by Labour MPs on Monday, was seen in the Commons tea room, apparently defending his support for the deployment of the Black Watch, if it is approved by the Chiefs of Staff.

The defence chiefs are due to report back to Mr Hoon today on the findings of a reconnaissance team which visited the area yesterday. There could be a final decision at the Cabinet tomorrow, with an announcement during a defence debate.

Mr Hoon has already made it clear to Labour MPs that it is not normal practice to allow a vote on troop deployments. However, Tony Blair will face renewed demands by the MPs today at Prime Minister's Question Time to allow a vote.

Labour MPs, including many who voted for the war, say they have been treated with contempt by ministers after both Mr Hoon and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, made it clear that they supported the deployment. The MPs continued to claim that the deployment of British troops was designed to help George Bush win the presidential election despite denials by Downing Street yesterday.

Mr Blair can expect to be challenged over Mr Hoon's unguarded comment that Britain will have "failed in its duty as an ally" if it rejected the US request. The British troops are required to release more US troops for the Fallujah assault. The British commanders are expected to tell the Cabinet that the US is guaranteeing a time limit on the deployment of British troops to the US-held area.

A senior MoD source said the Black Watch would be "back home for Christmas", indicating that the US aim is to mount an overwhelming assault and finish the operation within weeks.

The Labour rebellion was given added weight by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, who warned against an all-out assault on Fallujah.

Standing next to the Foreign Secretary at a press conference in London, Mr Annan said the US had to "win hearts and minds" as well as deal with security in Iraq.

"In these kinds of situations you have two wars going on: you have a war for the minds and hearts of the people, as well as the efforts to try and bring down the violence - and the two have to go together," he said.

"It has to be calibrated in such a way that you are able to move the people along with you, whilst at the same time you improve the security environment. I hope that approach is also the one that is being pursued by the Government and others in Iraq."

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