MP Alan Whitehead has uncovered Iraq's weapons of mass destruction . . . the feet of the country's football team.

The Labour backbencher was goalkeeper for the MPs' football team who played the Iraqi national side in the first match of their Goodwill Tour of the UK.

Unfortunately, Mr Whitehead - who helped save the St Mary's Leisure Centre - saved very little in his No 1 jersey.

Iraq - who have qualified for this year's Athens Olympics soccer tournament - dished out an 11-0 drubbing.

Mr Whitehead, in goal for the first half, let in six.

But the Southampton Test MP did not mind getting a bad back yesterday - he was just pleased his opponents were free from the clutches of evil dictator Saddam Hussein.

And it was not too embarrassing for the politician, whose team were managed by former Saints boss Lawrie McMenemy.

Iraq is ranked 44th in the world by football's governing body FIFA - higher than any of the home countries except England.

Mr Whitehead said: "I managed to tip one shot from an Iraqi international over the bar and clutched a free kick from the edge of the area to my chest but beyond that I spent a lot of time fetching the ball from the net."

But he added: "They were a fantastic team and the game was played in a tremendous spirit.

"Football is a great international healer. There is, it seems to be true, an international language of football.

"The fact they have qualified for the Olympics is of great significance to them - they have got a huge following in Iraq.

"It was a great honour to play against them - I'm sure we can forgive the fact they won so handsomely."

Mr McMenemy said: "Some of our players are Scots, and they were rather shocked to learn they were playing a team ranked higher than Scotland."

The 35-minute each-way match was played in Chelsea, south-west London - a far cry from when members of the Iraqi team lived under the brutal regime of Saddam. On one occasion, the tyrant had the soles of the players' feet beaten with canes - because they lost a crucial World Cup qualifying game.

Normally the MPs play politicians from other countries or journalists.

The MPs held Iraq at bay for 16 minutes but the score reached 6-0 at half-time. The other five goals were scored after the break.

Iraq manager Bernd Stange, said: "What really matters is the message, that after so many horrible events in Iraq, we can come and play football. That brings a good message to the world."