FORMER Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd yesterday launched a scathing attack on plans to attack Iraq.
He warned that a military strike risked turning the Middle East into a "inexhaustible recruiting ground for terrorism" and would scupper hopes of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
He was speaking as anti-war groups announced a day of mass protest on February 15.
His attack will prove a huge embarrassment for No 10 which has relied on backing from senior Conservative right wingers who have supported taking a tough line with the Iraqi dictator.
The peer, who was in charge of the Foreign Office for six years and oversaw policy during the Gulf War, said the context for conflict had changed since 1991 when "a genuine international coalition, including the main Arab states, came together to free Kuwait".
He added: "Arab governments today are no fonder of Hussein than they were in 1991.
"But the overthrow of an Arab regime, however odious, by an Anglo-American military force would seem different in principle from the liberation of Kuwait.
"No friendly countries, Arab or other, would pick up the bill, as they willingly did in 1991.
"The greatest danger might not arise in fighting Hussein's forces - which could last only a few days - but in the aftermath in a region that would see itself unmistakably under the domination of the US, the protector of Israel." He said no attack was being mooted against the threat of North Korea because, "Russia and China would oppose it and the consequences might be disastrous."
He dismissed US claims that toppling Saddam could lead to more Arab democracy, saying: "This strikes me as a breath-taking example of the human capacity for self-deception."
Targeting senior US politicians such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, he added: "Elderly observers should beware of construing their past experience as a guide to the future." Lord Hurd joins a growing list of senior figures bitterly critical of war plans.
Lib Dem foreign affairs spokes-man Menzies Campbell said: "Douglas Hurd makes public anxieties felt by virtually everyone with a knowledge of the Middle East and an understanding of the Arab world.
"Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands, John Major in the Gulf and Tony Blair in Kosovo could rely on overwhelming Parliamentary and public support for military action. There is a notable absence of both in relation to Iraq."
The Archbishop of York warned that war would inevitably lead to crimes against humanity.
Dr David Hope distributed a prayer letter calling on Britain and the US to remember the "scale of human suffering that war brings" and the "right of Iraqi people to determine their own future."
His spokesman said strong emotions had been raised, "because of the absence of any justification for war on Iraq." He added: "These prayers urge the government to think very carefully about the consequences."
A No 10 official said: "Everybody is entitled to express their opinion, including religious leaders."
Tony Blair has been careful to avoid a public row with the Church but behind the scenes is thought to be furious at what ministers sees as its "meddling" in politics.
BRITISH ambassadors are being called to London next week to discuss how they can react quickly to terror strikes and take "mobile embassies" to trouble spots.
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