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Short's secret Iraq war warning to Blair

By Channel 4 News, Channel 4 News

Updated on 02 February 2010

Former Cabinet minister Clare Short warned Number 10 the Iraq War was illegal and would lead to a "humanitarian catastrophe", new documents revealed today.

Clare Short speaking in Parliament

The former development secretary wrote to Tony Blair just weeks before the conflict began, to say war would break international law, and posed a threat to Iraq's future stability.

Ms Short, who later quit government in protest at its mandate for going to war, also told Blair that "naïve assumptions" were being made about the overall effect of the war.

In a letter on February 14th 2003 she told the prime minister: "The vulnerability of the Iraqi people to humanitarian catastrophe should not be underestimated.

"United States (US) preparations to date have been dominated by military considerations.

"Plans for the provision of humanitarian assistance during and following any conflict appear quite comprehensive, but they rely on naïve assumptions that there will be no major problems and that conflict will be swift."

She told Blair the need for United Nations (UN) backing "was critical", to give the military action "maximum authority".

Blair and United States ally George W Bush eventually went to war without the ultimate backing from the UN Security Council.

Short's warnings were contained in documents that were declassified ahead of her appearance before the Iraq Inquiry today.

A further letter from Short to Blair in March 2003 warned war in Iraq without UN backing would be illegal, and that more talks with the US were needed, as they were not properly prepared.

She wrote: "We need to be absolutely clear that the reconstruction of Iraq without an explicit UN mandate would breach international law.

"Without the UN mandate the coalition would be an occupying army…"

She added: "Further work with the US is needed…you should be aware that the US and the international humanitarian community are not properly prepared to deal with the immediate humanitarian issues."

Blair admitted during his own appearance before the inquiry last week that full UN backing for the conflict would have "made life easier".

A third letter, from Short’s private secretary Chris Austin to Number Ten in March 2001, revealed the Department for International Development had not even been involved in "discussions that led to the formulation of the proposed new policy framework for Iraq".

The document stressed again Short's concern that "it does not appear sufficient weight has been given to worries about humanitarian needs".  

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