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Iraq: Would U.K., Spain Join War Without Second UN Resolution?

The United Kingdom and Spain last week joined the United States in sponsoring a new UN draft resolution that condemns Iraq and might authorize a war. But what if the Security Council does not adopt this second resolution in a vote expected soon? Public opinion in both countries is against a war that has no UN backing. Will the United Kingdom and Spain still sign on to military action?

Prague, 4 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- It's like looking over the precipice. That's how one British minister is said to have described a scenario the government is reluctant to contemplate: What if the United Nations Security Council does not support a new draft resolution condemning Iraq and paving the way for war? Will the United Kingdom and Spain -- co-sponsors with the United States -- sign on to a U.S.-led war?

The three are currently trying to drum up support among the council's members to try to ensure that nine out of the 15 vote for the draft, which says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has squandered his final opportunity to rid himself of banned weapons. It could also be vetoed by one of the dissenters among the five permanent members: Russia, China, or, more likely, France.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week dismissed the what-if talk. "I believe that we will have support for a second resolution, and I don't think it's helpful to speculate on what might or might not happen," Blair said.

But still, what if?

Blair has said repeatedly he would prefer a second UN resolution but that he doesn't want to be confined if it's vetoed on what he calls "unreasonable grounds" by one of the permanent members.

Last week, Blair said any veto would be unreasonable if Hussein fails to comply with UN Resolution 1441 from last November. In other words, Hussein's failure to comply would be enough to justify a war. And Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in an interview with "The Times" on 28 February that a new resolution is politically but not legally necessary for military action.

Anthony King is professor of government at Essex University. He said he believes Blair is prepared to go to war regardless. "As of this moment, all the indications are that Blair and Bush are united in believing that whatever the UN eventually does, even if they have to pay a high political price domestically, especially Tony Blair, they want to get Saddam Hussein out of there if possible, and they certainly want to get Saddam disarmed. If the question is, 'Are they prepared to go it alone, or at least as a duo?', it very much looks as if they are," King said.

It's still possible the resolution's final text will be bland enough to secure sufficient support, said Blair biographer John Rentoul. After all, he said, Blair has been so adamant that there will be a second resolution, "you have to assume he knows something we don't." "It will still be enough to give Britain and America the diplomatic cover they need to be able to claim that the war is UN-authorized," Rentoul said.

Straw called a second resolution politically necessary for obvious reasons. Both the British and Spanish prime ministers are at loggerheads with public opinion over Iraq. Majorities in both countries are against a war that has no UN backing, and in Spain's case, even one that has UN authorization.

Blair last week suffered the biggest rebellion in years by a governing party. More than 100 members of parliament in his Labour Party voted for an amendment saying the case for war is not yet proven. The stakes for Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's party are higher as it faces local and regional elections soon.

But unlike Blair, Aznar has not committed any troops to a possible war. Adam Townsend is a research fellow with the Centre for European Reform in London. He said this is the slight irony of Aznar's support. "The best Aznar can do is perhaps some backup equipment, but Spanish lawyers tell me even that would probably be in breach of the constitution and definitely in breach of it if there was no second resolution. So the short answer is that unlike Tony Blair, Aznar won't be putting Spanish lives at risk. Sign up to a war? Without a second resolution Aznar will still provide vocal and moral support to George Bush Jr. about the war, and definitely I don't think Aznar is going to change his tune. He's said he thinks it's a just cause. I don't think he's going to change his mind if they don't get a second resolution," Townsend said.

Another question is whether British and Spanish support extends to the United States' goal of regime change in Iraq, whereas the UN resolutions speak only of disarmament.

Observers say Blair made a commitment to this last month when he answered antiwar critics by laying out what he called a "moral case" for removing Hussein.

Townsend said it's unclear if Aznar's official policy is to push for regime change. But he said that Aznar has also cited Hussein's cruelty to the Iraqi people as another reason to go to war.