Page last updated at 15:08 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

UN 'feeble in following through threats to Saddam'

David Miliband: "Why I voted for the Iraq war"

The "successive failures" of the United Nations to follow through threats to Saddam Hussein weakened it ahead of the Iraq war, David Miliband has said.

The UK foreign secretary said scope for action against him had become "severely limited" by "feeble follow-through".

Mr Miliband told the Iraq inquiry that international agencies thought Saddam posed "the material to be a danger".

But he said he disagreed with former US Vice-President Dick Cheney that Iraq was an "epicentre of terrorism".

The US-led coalition which launched an invasion of Iraq in March 2003 did so without a further UN resolution explicitly backing the action.

'Harsher measures'

The inquiry heard that Saddam had faced 14 resolutions since the Gulf War of 1991, including sanctions, no-fly zones and a naval embargo.

Mr Miliband said: "The sanctions had shown its own severe limitations. The record since 1991 had shown severe limitations in the UN's willingness to follow through on the demands it had made.

We are seen to have played a part in freeing the country from a tyranny that's bitterly remembered
David Miliband, Foreign Secretary

"The longer the UN fails to impose its will, the harsher the measures required when it does impose its will."

Mr Miliband also said: "The authority of the UN, I think, would have been severely dented if the hypothetical case that you are putting - that we had marched to the top of the hill of pressure and then walked down again without disarming Saddam - then I think that would have been really quite damaging for any of the multilateral aims that we have that need to be pursued through the UN."

He told the inquiry: "The fact that the argument was made very clearly, notably in this country, that feeble follow-through undermines strong words, I think, is significant."

'Pure doublespeak'

He said: "The argument that Saddam was the best bulwark against Iran and the Iranians the best bulwark against Saddam was not a terribly good case."

But Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey said: "David Miliband and Gordon Brown are on a PR offensive to rewrite the history of the Iraq War.

"The idea that the UK upheld international law by invading Iraq is pure Labour doublespeak.

"Iraq diminished our standing in the Middle East and the wider world and divided us from our natural allies."

Mr Miliband, who became foreign secretary in 2007, was asked about how the UK was seen by Iraqis.

He replied: "We are seen to have played a part in freeing the country from a tyranny that's bitterly remembered.

"That's true for significant sections of the population - obviously for the Kurds, obviously for the Shias and for some of the Sunnis as well."

Mr Miliband said the situation in Iraq was "still in play" and showed "chaotic potential".

The foreign secretary was an education minister when the war started.

'Driving instinct'

In separate evidence to the inquiry, Ministry of Defence permanent under-secretary Sir Bill Jeffrey said the expansion of operations in Afghanistan in 2006 had meant "there was a risk that we would be stretched in two theatres for longer than was desirable".

But this did not mean "that we departed from our driving instinct" that pulling out of Iraq would take place at the right time, he added.

Speaking about the earlier part of the conflict in Iraq, Sir Bill said: "Our troops were returning and encountering people in local pubs who were often to what they were doing, or hostile to it...

"It's hard to detect when it started, but I think there's more understanding on the part of the public of what they are achieving and how much credit they are due."

It was the inquiry's final hearing until after the general election, which is expected in May.

As he ended the hearing, chairman Sir John Chilcot said: "The Iraq inquiry intends to remain out of the public eye over the period of the election because we are independent and non-political. We've been clear from the outset that we have to remain outside party politics.

"We have asked the political parties to respect that position and I would like to repeat that request today, as the election campaign comes closer."



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