United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed regret that military action has begun against Iraq, saying that further diplomacy could have prevented war.
Annan: UN will offer Iraqi people "assistance and support"
His statement comes after former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, speaking to the BBC, criticised what he called American "impatience" to go to war with Iraq and suggested Washington had little interest in peaceful disarmament from the outset.
Mr Annan also spoke of the recent rift in the UN Security Council over military action saying it had shown the great importance that the people of the world attached to the legitimacy conveyed by the authority of the UN.
"The world could have taken action to solve this problem by a collective decision, endowing it with greater legitimacy, and therefore commanding wider support, than is now the case," he said.
The secretary general added that the UN would do anything it could to offer "assistance and support" to the Iraqi people as the prospect of a humanitarian crisis loom.
"I hope that all parties will scrupulously observe the requirements of international humanitarian law, and will do everything in their power to shield the civilian population from the grim consequences of war," he said.
US 'lost patience'
Speaking on the BBC's Today Programme shortly before US-led operations in Iraq began, Mr Blix said that Resolution 1441 on Iraqi disarmament, adopted last autumn, had been unrealistic.
"The resolution (on Iraqi disarmament) that was adopted last autumn was extremely demanding and perhaps (the Americans) doubted that the Iraqis would go along with it and you would have a clash from the beginning," Mr Blix said.
Mr Blix, who headed the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic), said he was very disappointed that inspections were aborted.
"We had made rapid start," he said. "We did not have any obstacles from the Iraqi side in going anywhere. They gave us prompt access and we were in a great many places all over Iraq."
The former chief inspector also pointed out that his teams had secured the destruction of some of Iraq's al-Samoud II missiles.
But the Americans "lost patience some time at the end of January or the beginning of February," Mr Blix said.
He suggested that Washington was "doubtful from the beginning" about the process.
"I somewhat doubt that when (the Security Council) got the resolution last November they really intended to give under three-and-a-half months for inspections," Mr Blix said.
However Mr Blix said the mission had showed that it was possible to have a UN inspection regime that was truly international and independent from the intelligence services of member states.