Raid on Iraq: Benn leads criticism of 'gunboat diplomacy'

Overwhelming support for the air attack on Iraq came from MPs on both sides of the Commons last night, but there were bitter exchanges as some Labour backbenchers described it as 'a blunder and a crime' and warned it would strengthen Saddam Hussein and boost Islamic fundamentalism.

Macolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, warned that the Iraqi President would invite further action if he continued his aggression against allied aircraft and in Kuwait.

David Clark and Menzies Campbell, the Labour and Liberal Democrat defence spokesmen both fully supported the allied attack, but Tony Benn, the former Labour cabinet minister, was greeted with Tory cries of shame when he said the allies had no authority from the UN for the action. 'This will be seen worldwide as the last example of gunboat diplomacy by a lame-duck president.' It would stimulate Arab hostility to the West.

Uproar followed when Mr Rifkind branded Bob Cryer 'a friend and ally of Saddam Hussein' after the MP for Bradford South said the action 'will in all probability strengthen the position of Saddam Hussein, not weaken it'. It would do nothing to solve the problems of the Middle East.

Labour MPs demanded a retraction as others went on to accuse the Government of double standards when it had failed to act over Israel's expulsion of 400 Palestinians. George Galloway, Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead, said the action would boost Islamic fundamentalism and 'the blunder and crime committed this evening will come back to haunt us down the years to come'.

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