Short, the most vocal of the sceptics about the US drive towards war with Iraq in the British cabinet, said in a statement that the UN should take the lead role in running Iraq after any war. ‘If the UN authorises military action to force Saddam Hussein to comply with his disarmament obligations, it is essential that great care is taken to minimise any harm to the people of Iraq who are already vulnerable,’ she said. ‘This means very careful targeting of military action, ensuring order is maintained, that food distribution is quickly resumed, that health, water and sanitation infrastructure is rehabilitated as soon as possible.’

‘Planning is in hand for all of this. My greatest worry is that there is not yet agreement that the UN should have the lead role in a post-conflict Iraq,’ she continued. ‘Without this, there would be significant legal and other difficulties for the international humanitarian system to work.’

Short was speaking during a debate about the UK supported draft resolution circulated to the UN Security Council on 24 February which is widely interpreted as giving the US and its supporters the right launch a military campaign against Iraq. UK planning for humanitarian assistance to Iraq during and after any war in Iraq is lagging behind action in the US which earlier this week announced that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was preparing the largest humanitarian programme in American history.