Tears from Iraq envoy Clwyd amid heated war debate

Angry exchanges on Iraq erupted at the Labour conference yesterday when Tony Blair and his ministers were accused of misleading the public and taking the country to war on a false prospectus.

But the Labour leadership escaped a serious rebellion after an overwhelming majority of delegates backed a policy paper acknowledging that a "significant amount of work" was needed to rebuild the shattered country.

A succession of speakers attacked military intervention, but party managers ensured only six of the 29 speakers called urged delegates to rebel against Mr Blair in the debate on foreign affairs.

The Prime Minister avoided the prospect of a humiliating defeat when the conference voted not to discuss an emergency motion by the RMT union declaring there was "no justification" for the war and calling for the withdrawal of coalition troops.

Ann Clwyd, the Prime Minister's envoy to Iraq and a long-standing campaigner for human rights there, won a standing ovation with an emotional speech that cooled the debate. In tears, she told of watching the uncovering of a mass grave of 15,000 people, one of 200 mass interments found since the end of the conflict. "I have believed in regime change for 20 years," she said. "I do not believe, and neither do you, that we should turn a blind eye to such atrocities.

"The people of Iraq could not have toppled this regime on their own. They, the victims, needed our help. I believe, as do most of the Iraqi people, that for the sake of their human rights alone, Tony Blair did the moral and courageous thing in destroying the evil and the terror that was Saddam Hussein."

But another Labour MP, Alice Mahon, said: "We were lied to about the weapons of mass destruction and there is no delicate way of putting it." She warned ministers they were "in a bubble" and out of touch with the strong anti-war feelings in the country. "This comes up on doorsteps. It's a most deeply unpopular."

Jimmy Elsby, of the GMB union and the Labour Party's treasurer, said: "Never again must we decide that might is right and the UN is wrong. We destroyed a country and called it liberation, we created a wasteland and called it peace."

Mick Hogg, of the RMT union, criticised the decision to prevent a vote. He said: "It is frankly absurd that the one issue the entire world is talking about, the matter of war and peace no less, should not be dealt with properly at the conference of the party of government of this country."

Citing a study for The Independent by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, he said the cost of the war was equivalent to 2p on income tax, money that could have been spent improving health care or education.

Geoff Hoon, the embattled Defence Secretary, was applauded as he invited Muff Sourani, an Iraqi trade unionist who was tortured by the Saddam regime, on the platform.

The left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn said: "Why are we, a British Labour Government with a very large parliamentary majority, so signed up to the ultra right-wing George Bush?"

But Joanne Thompson, a delegate from the party's Northern Region, said: "Can any of us really distrust our Prime Minister and Cabinet so much we honestly believe he would lie about the facts?

"That he would lie about the intelligence, he would collude with intelligence and security services to support his cause, to manipulate the military and knowingly send British soldiers to their death for a cause he knew to be false? I just can't, and I won't, believe that."

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