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[casi] Clare Short: Blair's lack of courage,3604,1008470,00.html


Blair's lack of courage

If Britain had held out for UN control of Iraq, we
wouldn't be bogged down in a bloody occupation

Clare Short
Wednesday July 30, 2003
The Guardian (London)

It is right that we should continue to argue over the
route to war in Iraq. But it is more urgent that we
address the continuing chaos, suffering and loss of
life. The British military was very clear that the
conflict would take no more than a few weeks. In my
briefings, they talked of the need to prepare for very
rapid success. And - despite claims to the contrary -
the UN was well prepared to return to Iraq as soon as
order was restored to take charge of emergency
humanitarian needs.

The advice that I, and the Department for
International Development, gave to the prime minister
was that we should internationalise the reconstruction
effort as quickly as possible. This was based on our
experience in East Timor, Kosovo and Afghanistan, and
also on our understanding of international law. I was
delighted when the attorney general provided clear
legal advice on the limitation of the authority of
occupying powers, which strongly reinforced the case
we were making.

The legal position is laid down in the Geneva
convention and Hague regulations. They provide that
occupying powers have a duty to keep order, keep civil
administration functioning and provide for immediate
humanitarian need. They have no powers to engage in
major political, economic or constitutional reform.
They also have no power to bring into being a
sovereign government since they hold no sovereignty.
Only the UN can do that. The attorney's advice
concluded: "The lawfulness of any occupation after
conflict has ended is still governed by the legal
basis for the use of force... namely, Iraqi
disarmament... the longer the occupation of Iraq
continues, and the more the tasks undertaken by an
interim administration depart from the main objective,
the more difficult it will be to justify the
lawfulness of the occupation."

Thus it was clear the right way forward was that the
coalition focus on keeping order and that the UN
humanitarian system restore food supplies, water and
electricity. The security council needed to lift
sanctions and appoint a special representative to
establish an interim government and a route to
elections, as had been done in Afghanistan. This would
enable the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and IMF
to provide support for the interim government's
economic reform programme. And it would ensure that
all contracts were let transparently.

When the prime minister pressed me to remain a member
of the government, he promised that the UN would be
given the central role in reconstruction. I was much
criticised for staying, but decided that although the
war was unstoppable it was possible to organise a
proper international effort to rebuild Iraq.

At the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank in
early April, I worked to persuade ministerial
colleagues from France, Germany and other countries
which had been opposed to the war that, whatever past
differences, we should reunite to help Iraq
reconstruct. The Bretton Woods institutions were
desperately anxious not to be contaminated by the
bitter divisions that were festering in New York, and
keen to find a way to support Iraq with the approval
of all their members.

They made clear they needed the UN to play its role in
bringing into being a legitimate government with which
they could work - both for legal reasons and because
it is impossible to lend to a government that cannot
bind its successors. The ministerial communiqués from
the spring meetings set out an international
willingness to engage in this way.

But the US was not interested in internationalising
reconstruction. It had established the Office for
Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) in
the Pentagon only a couple of months before the
conflict was to begin. It was led by retired general
Jay Garner. ORHA was immediately bogged down in
Washington politics and the squabble between the
Pentagon and state department over who was to choose
the new Iraqi administration. There was a complete
failure to prepare for the Geneva convention
obligations. The British military did take these
obligations more seriously and the attorney general
proposed that British staff seconded to ORHA be
protected by a memorandum of understanding on the
legal rights of occupying powers. But the US brushed
the idea aside and it was quietly dropped.

The prime minister did press President George Bush to
commit to a "vital role" for the UN at the
Hillsborough meeting and President Bush obligingly
said the appropriate words. But it was increasingly
clear that the US would not agree an appropriate UN
role. The US was sneeringly hostile to the UN, arguing
that it was not willing to undertake the cost of
military action and then to hand over Iraq to the UN.
Jack Straw talked shockingly of France and Germany
having made the wrong call and not being allowed to
"get their snouts in the trough".

The prime minister therefore took personal charge of
the drafting of security council resolution 1483. This
was passed on May 22. It recognised the coalition as
occupying powers and, very unusually, gave them equal
authority with the UN in establishing the Iraqi
interim authority. In practice even this resolution
has been breached with Paul Bremer, the US
administrator who has taken over from Gen Garner,
making the decisions with the UK and UN trotting along

And now, after months of chaos and loss of life, there
is increasing worry in Washington that the US is
carrying too much of the financial and military burden
in Iraq. There is also mounting public concern about
the number of US soldiers who are being killed and
injured. A recent mission of experts commissioned by
the Pentagon has strongly recommended that the US
should work with the G7, the World Bank and the UN.
India, Pakistan, and Germany among others have been
asked to send peacekeepers. The response from almost
all countries is that they will do so only if the UN
is given a clearer mandate to lead the reconstruction.

And thus we come full circle. The law, the UN and the
international community were pushed to one side. Four
months later, after much destruction, suffering and
loss of life, Washington is considering a return to
the security council in order to strengthen the UN
role and widen international engagement. If the prime
minister had only had more courage, reconstruction in
Iraq would almost certainly be more advanced and the
US and UK at less risk of getting bogged down in an
unpopular and costly occupation.

Just as the UK could have played an honourable role in
refusing to support military action until the Blix
inspection process had been completed, the PM could
have insisted on honouring his legal obligations and
best policy advice on reconstruction. But at this
stage the US wanted to minimise the UN role and our
prime minister was not willing to challenge them.

· Clare Short is the former international development

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