London, May 22 (Reuters): Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair was accused today of ignoring a legal warning against imposing political reform on post-war Iraq without explicit United Nations support.
A leaked memo from attorney general Lord Goldsmith, published on the day the UN Security Council gave US and British occupiers broad political and economic powers in Iraq, appeared to question the legality of their actions in the six weeks since they overthrew former President Saddam Hussein.
“My view is that a further Security Council resolution is needed to authorise imposing reform and restructuring of Iraq and its government,” Goldsmith wrote two months ago in the leaked memo, published by the New Statesman magazine. He advised Blair that occupation of Iraq must rest on the same legal basis which Washington and London invoked for military action — disarmament of Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
“The longer the occupation of Iraq continues, and the more the tasks undertaken by an interim administration depart from the main (disarmament) objective, the more difficult it will be to justify the lawfulness of the occupation,” he said.
Blair’s critics, including former minister Clare Short who resigned last week in protest at Blair’s handling of post-war Iraq, leapt on the leak, saying it showed the US and Britain had no right to start reshaping Iraq’s government. “The meetings convened by US and British representatives to start to establish an interim Iraqi authority clearly breached that advice,” Short said, referring to two US-British sponsored meetings in Nasiriyah and Baghdad last month.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed the contents of Goldsmith's memo but said Blair had not breached its advice.
”The key word is 'imposing' (political reform). We have not been doing that,” he told BBC radio.
”What we have been seeking in the interim Ä before we get a Security Council resolution Ä is a consensual basis for the very early stages of reform.” (Reporting by Dominic Evans; editing by Andrew Roche; dom.evans