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Blair recalls parliament over Iraq

Blair: "We should do everything we can to stop (Saddam) using weapons he has"  

LONDON, England -- Prime Minister Tony Blair has asked for Britain's parliament to be recalled to debate the possibility of military action against Iraq.

In a letter to House of Commons speaker Michael Martin, Blair wrote: "I would like, with your permission, to recall parliament for a one day debate... during the week beginning September 23rd."

Blair is a staunch supporter of Washington's tough line on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and has faced mounting calls from opposition Conservatives and his own ruling Labour Party to give parliament an opportunity to discuss the crisis.

Parliament is not officially due to return from its summer recess until October 15. Members were last recalled in April to mark the death of Britain's Queen Mother and in October 2001 to debate military action in Afghanistan.

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Government sources told The Associated Press the most likely date for the debate is September 24, one day after a cabinet meeting expected to be dominated by Iraq.

Blair said by then "important discussions" on Iraq will have taken place at the United Nations, and the British government will have had an opportunity to release a long-promised dossier on the threat it says Saddam poses.

President Bush is due to address the U.N. General Assembly about Iraq on Thursday, after winning Blair's public endorsement over the weekend for his determination to deal with Baghdad.

Acknowledging that some politicians had called for an earlier recall, Blair said the government needed time to ensure its dossier was as detailed as possible, without compromising sensitive intelligence material.

"I would also repeat that we are not at the stage of making decisions about military commitments with regard to Iraq, and that should we be in the future, parliament would obviously be given every opportunity to express its view," he wrote.

Graham Allen, a member of Blair's Labour Party, said Tuesday that he planned to rent a hall next week so that lawmakers could informally debate Iraq.

Blair is due to meet the leaders of Britain's two main opposition parties, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, on Thursday to brief them on the issue, officials told Reuters news agency.

The prime minister on Wednesday told a Trades Union Congress conference in Blackpool that Saddam Hussein was an "international outlaw" in charge of a "barbaric regime" that had to be dealt with. (Full story)

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Unionists are among the traditional backers of Blair's Labour Party, but they have been vocal in their opposition to a war on Iraq.

The European Union has voiced strong opposition to U.S. unilateral action or even multilateral action without further proof of Iraq's threat and U.N. backing.

French President Jacques Chirac, who has been supportive of tackling the issue through the U.N., moved towards a solution when he proposed on Tuesday putting forward U.N. Security Council resolution giving Baghdad a three-week deadline for letting weapons inspectors back before a second vote on the use of military force. (Full story)

Blair met Bush during the weekend in a three-hour strategy session on Iraq.

Hawks in the Bush administration have been making the case for military action to bring down Saddam.


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