Press Notice 22

Session 2002-03, 28 March 2003 Letter from Tony Baldry MP, the Chairman of the International Development Committee, to the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister, concerning Iraq, reconstruction and the United Nations


Session 2002-03, 28 March 2003 Letter from Tony Baldry MP, the Chairman of the International Development Committee, to the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister, concerning Iraq, reconstruction and the United Nations

Dear Prime Minister

As Members of the International Development Committee, we wish to strongly support the determination of yourself and the Secretary of State for International Development that the United Nations has the key co-ordinating role in post-conflict Iraq.

We write immediately after a visit to Washington and New York in which we met senior Members of Congress, the head of UNDP and senior representatives of other UN organisations.  We also met USAID and other American Government Departments.  The President of the World Bank and Managing Director of the IMF also saw us, as did many other bodies covering a wide range of political opinion.  We also met Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UK Ambassador to the United Nations and many other Permanent Representatives at the UN.  We were briefed by UNOCHA, the World Food Programme and UNICEF before we left London.

Parts of the United States Administration have pressed for the United States government, through the Pentagon, to take the dominant role in both humanitarian and reconstruction matters after the conflict.  UN organisations would merely have a supportive role.  We believe this would be dangerously counter-productive.  Our priority has to be what is the right thing for the people of Iraq.  It is crucial both for them and the rest of the world that they are seen to choose their own democratic government under an objective framework set up by the UN with the international legitimacy that this carries.  We hope the UN can appoint a lead figure with clear lines of accountability as soon as possible.

There are many reasons why the United Nations should take the central role.  The priority is that the UN Secretary General takes up again responsibility for the Iraq (Oil-for-Food) Programme and the distribution of humanitarian assistance and progress towards the lifting of sanctions.  Far too few people have realised the scale of what is now being seen to be the largest humanitarian effort in history.  We have never attempted to feed up to 16 million people before.  But provision of food is only a part of the Iraq Programme.  Other needs such as for health services, sanitation and construction have to be met as well.  It would be folly for any body other than the UN to be in charge.

The UN family of organisations under the co-ordination of the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs has a proven track record.  UN organisations like UNICEF, UNDP, WHO and UNHCR simply cannot act as agents of a single state.  Neither can other global bodies such as the World Bank, IMF and the Red Cross.  They are essential to recovery and they need to be operating to a clear UN mandate.

It is clear that there will be a considerable period in which military effort will move from intense warfare to peacekeeping and peace building - but peace could be fragile and internal divisions could also erupt into conflict.  It is absolutely crucial that our humanitarian organisations are seen as operating under the mandate of the United Nations, rather than as reporting to one of the combatants.

There is a further issue of significance.  The fracture of the international community over Iraq is the most serious since the end of the Cold War.  Unless immediate steps are taken to heal these rifts, the poison of mistrust and antagonism will run deep to the detriment of the world.  We believe this may be insufficiently understood by some in the United States government, and we therefore urge you to continue with your efforts to persuade President Bush that his country's support of the involvement of the UN is a key point of the restoration of relationships between the US and the rest of the world.  For example, very large amounts of money are going to be needed for aid and reconstruction work.  This is more likely to be forthcoming if the UN leads the appeal for funds.  There are fears that the resources of Iraq, particularly oil, will be unfairly developed.  The only appropriate response must be that there is international co-ordination through the United Nations. 

Some are criticising the United Nations for failure in the period leading up to war.  But it was the nations of the Security Council that failed to find consensus over a second resolution.  It is wrong to blame the professional agencies of the United Nations which must play the key peace-building role now.  As MPs, we took differing views on the move to war, but we are unanimous that the United Nations should co-ordinate the peace.  Because of the importance of the issue we are releasing this letter to the media.

Signed:  28 March 2003

Tony Baldry MP (Chairman, International Development Select Committee)

John Barrett MP

Hugh Bayley MP

Alistair Burt MP

Mr Tony Colman MP

Mr Piara S. Khabra MP

Mr Robert Walter MP

Mr Tony Worthington MP

Members of the International Development Committee currently visiting the USA

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Notes for Editors: The Committee published its 4th Report 'Preparing for the humanitarian consequences of possible military action against Iraq' (HC 444-I) on Wednesday 12 March 2003. The Minutes of Evidence and Appendices was published as HC 444-II on Friday 28 March 2003. The Government's response to the Committee's report was published as the Committee's Second Special Report, Session 2002-03 on Wednesday 26 March 2003.Reports and press notices issued by the International Development Committee are available on the Parliamentary website: www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/international_development.cfm

The membership of the Committee is as follows: Tony Baldry (Chairman) (Conservative, Banbury), John Barrett (Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West), Mr John Battle (Labour, Leeds West), Hugh Bayley (Labour, City of York), Alistair Burt (Conservative, North East Bedfordshire), Ann Clwyd (Labour, Cynon Valley), Mr Tony Colman (Labour, Putney), Mr Piara S. Khabra (Labour, Ealing, Southall), Chris McCafferty (Labour, Calder Valley), Mr Robert Walter (Conservative, North Dorset) and  Tony Worthington (Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie).

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