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Last Updated:  Sunday, 30 March, 2003, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Cook plays down troops row
Robin Cook
Robin Cook: Warning against Baghdad siege
Former cabinet minister Robin Cook has sought to defuse a row with his ex-colleagues after a ferocious attack on the war in Iraq.

Mr Cook lashed out at the military action in a newspaper article on Sunday, saying he wanted UK troops back home before more are killed.

Seeing that as a call for forces to be withdrawn from Iraq, ministers said to do so would be to "capitulate" to Saddam Hussein.

But later on Sunday Mr Cook issued a statement saying he was not calling for troops to be withdrawn but that he wanted a quick victory before there are many more deaths.

I have already had my fill of this bloody and unnecessary war
Robin Cook

In his newspaper article, Mr Cook, who resigned as Leader of the Commons in protest at the decision to launch hostilities without international agreement, denounced the campaign as "bloody and unnecessary".

He also warned that Britain and the United States risked stoking up a "long-term legacy of hatred" for the West across the Arab and Muslim world.

Mr Cook wrote: "I have already had my fill of this bloody and unnecessary war.

"I want our troops home and I want them home before more of them are killed."

Home Secretary David Blunkett slapped down the comments on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost, saying his former cabinet colleague was risking the "dignity" of his resignation by suggesting "capitulation" in Iraq.

He said: "Robin resigned with great dignity, he put his argument with great force, but it's hard to retain that dignity or force if you advocate capitulation after just 10 days.

Protesters burn Union flag in Tehran, Iran
There will be a long-term legacy of hatred for the West if the Iraqi people continue to suffer from the effects of the war we started
Robin Cook

"We have to back our troops....we have to back those who are in conflict in bringing down Saddam Hussein and we have to ask everyone to answer the question: 'who do you wish to win?'"

And Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien said he heard of Mr Cook's comments "with great sadness".

"This is not the time to say these things Robin, and I am sorry you have done it," he said.

But Mr Cook subsequently released a statement saying he was not advocating the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.

He said: "Now that the war has started it's vital that it ends in victory. There could be no worse outcome than one that lets Saddam Hussein survive.

"But as I said in my article in the Sunday Mirror those who started the war did so with a promise that it would be quick and easy.

Siege

"They owe us an explanation why the resistance has been greater than planned for and they owe British troops an explanation of how they are going to take Baghdad without further casualties."

HAVE YOUR SAY
It's not too late for troops to seriously consider withdrawing honourably
N Salyani, Canada

In his article, Mr Cook said that US President George W Bush and his Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not appear to know what to do now that their hopes that Iraq would swiftly capitulate had proved unfounded.

They appeared to be contemplating laying siege to Baghdad, which would result in massive civilian suffering and many unnecessary deaths, he said.

Mr Cook was among 10 members of the Labour Government to resign over the war.

Speaking later on BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend, Mr Cook insisted he fully backed Tony Blair as Labour leader despite their differences over Iraq.

He said he wanted to be part of efforts to reunite Labour once the conflict is over - and denied he had leadership ambitions.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Cook had a well-known position on Iraq which was not shared by the government.

Rebellions

Mr Blunkett denied reports that Labour MPs are plotting further rebellions against Tony Blair over the war.

He said the arguments of those against the conflict had been heard in the Commons and the issue had been voted on, he said.

He said pulling troops out now would boost Saddam and other dictators around the world.

But former defence minister Doug Henderson said troops should be withdrawn from the "hellish" situation in Iraq in order to avoid another potential Vietnam.

He told GMTV: "If it is so difficult to control the road north to Baghdad and try to make headway into Basra then what will the situation be like in Baghdad itself?

"Is it not better to recognise that we should withdraw?"


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Shaun Ley
"The worst possible outcome would be one which left Saddam there"



SEE ALSO:
Profile: Robin Cook
17 Mar 03  |  Politics


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