Cook accuses Blair of sidelining the UN in post-war Iraq

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Robin Cook has accused Tony Blair of "freezing out" the UN from its proper role in post-war Iraq, backing the strong criticism levelled at the Prime Minister by Clare Short.

Writing in The Independent today, Mr Cook warns that Mr Blair is tied to George Bush's strategy to "marginalise" the UN, to provide a permanent US influence in the region.

The criticism from the former foreign secretary will fuel controversy over Britain and America's plans as they take near-total control of Iraq's oil revenues for a year and relegate the UN to an advisory role.

Mr Cook says: "It is going to be the US who puts together the new government of Iraq. It is going to be the US who will have de facto control of the rebuilding of the oil industry. It will even be the US who will be responsible for hunting down the fabled mass destruction.

"It is not just the UN weapons inspectors who are blackballed from Iraq. Unbelievably, the US have refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the same nuclear sites to which they had access under Saddam." The former cabinet minister says the policy was "irrational" from Britain's point of view and that the national interest would be best served by handing over responsibility to the UN. He believes that the US-UK strategy would also make the "complex and delicate task" of forming a cohesive and representative Iraqi government even more difficult.

He warns: "After brushing the UN aside in the run-up to war, we are in danger of compounding the damage to the UN by leaving it on the sidelines in the aftermath of war."

However, Mr Cook dismisses Ms Short's criticism of Mr Blair's "presidential" style and her claim that he has sidelined Parliament. He argues that Mr Blair shares power with her ally Gordon Brown because the Chancellor has declared his independence from Mr Blair. "The standing joke within No 10 is that their relations with the Treasury are the British version of [the French system of] cohabitation," he says.

Mr Cook chides Ms Short for not resigning when he did, in the run-up to the war. "I believe Clare was wrong to say that there would have been no point in her resigning as Tory support for war guaranteed a [Commons] majority for military action. Had we both gone together ... it may not have been enough to defeat the Government but a more narrow majority could have left it less able to claim the wholehearted consent of the Commons for war."

Downing Street insisted that a draft UN resolution tabled by the US and Britain would establish a legitimate government in Iraq. Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "The UN itself has not sought the role of administering Iraq, as the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, has made clear on a number of occasions." Government sources say that Iraqis who hope to play a role in the new government do not want the country run by the UN in the meantime.