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Tony Blair's planned invitation to Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi to Labour conference is dropped.


Michael White
August 18, 2004 6:41PM (UTC)

Tony Blair has abandoned hopes of inviting Ayad Allawi, head of the interim Iraqi government, to address next month's Labour conference after strong warnings from across the party that the move would prove divisive. Labour officials told the Guardian last night that Mr Allawi "has not been invited" to follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, and last year President Hamid Kharzai of Afghanistan, in addressing the conference.

In doing so they averted the prospect of a damaging rift in the coming weeks as unions, MPs and activists opposed to the US-led occupation of Iraq threatened demonstrations and walkouts if Mr Allawi had become the designated guest speaker in Brighton - as No 10 had apparently suggested before the summer holidays.

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The former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, was among senior party figures privately urging Mr Blair not to raise tensions over Iraq by inviting someone widely seen as a protegi of the CIA and M16.

Labour's retreat came as the army named 29-year-old Corporal Paul Thomas - the "backbone" of his platoon - as the 65th British soldier to be killed in the UK-led occupation of southern Iraq.

The prime minister is assumed by colleagues to have been the driving force behind the inclusion of Mr Allawi's name as a possible star speaker. Ministerial loyalists privately defended the idea on the grounds that the post-Saddam case for reform and democratisation in Iraq is often drowned out by anti-war sentiment in Britain.

But Mr Allawi was deemed to be too controversial a choice even for some loyalists. A former Ba'ath party activist who survived an assassination attempt during his 30 year exile in Britain, he heads the interim governing council.

He has been accused of "playing the hard man without success" by one ex-minister and of stoking up unfounded concerns about illegal Iraqi weapons stockpiles before the March 2003 war.

Lance Corporal Thomas's deathwas not front page news yesterday. It coincided with a Guardian/ICM poll which suggested Iraq was bottom of the top 10 priorities for most British voters.

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Michael White

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