Ministers break taboo of criticising Bush

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British ministers have begun to blame the problems in Iraq on mistakes made by George Bush in the immediate aftermath of the conflict three years ago.

Jack Straw has criticised the US President for ignoring advice of Colin Powell, his former secretary of state, about the need for post-war planning. Mr Straw, who was Foreign Secretary at the time of the invasion, is believed to have issued similar warnings before the conflict because he was concerned that there was little discussion in Washington of how the aftermath would be handled.

If he becomes Prime Minister, Gordon Brown is expected to try to expand on the mistakes that were made in Iraq without saying the intervention was wrong. During last year's general election campaign, he said he would have acted in the same way as Mr Blair.

Mr Straw, now Leader of the Commons, told BBC's Question Time that Iraq was now in a "dire" situation. He said: "I think many mistakes were made after the military action by the United States administration. Why? Because they failed to follow the lead of Secretary Powell." He said State Department efforts to ensure a "proper civilian administration" in Iraq were not followed through.

He said that while he felt the current situation in Iraq was "not satisfactory", he had expressed such a view before leaving the post. "I certainly said there were mistakes made," he said.

Mr Straw added that there were people in the US administration in 2003 who wanted to invade Iraq "in any event" but he did not believe Mr Bush was one of them. "The thing that people forget in this situation is the successful efforts Tony Blair made, which I played a part, to shift the American administration from that position to one where we took it to the United Nations," he said.

It is not the first time that Mr Straw has distanced himself from Mr Blair's foreign policy. He publicly questioned the Prime Minister's stance on Lebanon this summer. Before being moved from the Foreign Office in May last year, he angered the White House and Downing Street by saying military action against Iran over its nuclear weapons programme was "unconceivable". Although such a policy was not on the agenda, Mr Bush and Mr Blair wanted to keep up the pressure on Iran's regime.

David Cameron, the Tory leader, who voted for the war, has begun to distance himself from US and British foreign policy during the last five years. In a speech, he declared he was a "liberal conservative, rather than a neo-conservative" and criticised Mr Blair's uncritical support for Washington.