Return UN inspectors to Iraq, says Cook

Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook today called on Britain and America to allow United Nations weapons inspectors back into Iraq.

The failure of the coalition to find any trace of the "fabled" weapons of mass destruction in the five weeks since the fall of Baghdad threw serious doubt on Tony Blair's justification for the invasion of Iraq, said Mr Cook, who quit the Cabinet because of his opposition to war.

If Saddam had really possessed weapons capable of posing a threat to Britain and the US - as Mr Blair and US President George Bush claimed - they would have been found by now, said Mr Cook.

He said he was "shocked" by the coalition's apparent determination to sideline the United Nations in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq and to exclude chief inspector Hans Blix's Unmovic team from the hunt for weapons programmes.

A draft resolution tabled by the US and UK at the Security Council would "marginalise" the international body, said Mr Cook. Mr Blair had made a "big mistake" in undermining the UN in the run-up to war and risked compounding his error now.

WMD played down

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday played down the significance of WMD finds, insisting they were "not crucially important", as proof of their existence had been established before the war began.

Thousands of litres of anthrax could be concealed in a space no larger than an oil tanker, and could take a long time to uncover in a country the size of Iraq, he said.

And Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs he was "confident" evidence of illicit weapons programmes would be found.

But Mr Cook told the BBC: "We were told by President Bush that this was a pre-emptive strike and it was necessary to get Saddam before he hit us.

"If he had anything with which to hit us, we would have found it by now. A nuclear bomb requires a nuclear reactor. A big missile system requires a big industrial factory. You can't hide these things.

"We were told we were going in there to disarm the weapons of mass destruction. If it was so compelling, so urgent, that we had to go in and disarm these weapons that posed such a big threat to us that it justified a pre-emptive strike, it is rather curious that they can't find these weapons.

"There is a way to square the circle and that is for the US and UK to agree to let Hans Blix and the weapons inspectors back in again. We are refusing to do so."

'Mistake' over UN

The draft UN resolution made clear that the inspectors would not be readmitted, said Mr Cook.

"I am shocked by the terms in which it puts all the power in the hands of what it describes as the occupying authorities," he said.

"I think we made a big mistake before the war in undermining the UN by brushing it aside and proceeding to war.

"I think we are missing a great opportunity to rebuild that authority of the UN if we now marginalise it in the aftermath of war."

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now