by Sanjay Suri
(IPS) LONDON --
tensions over Iraq within the British government boiled over May 12 with the resignation of Clare Short, Secretary for the Department for International Development.
Short has been asking for the British government to support a central role for the United Nations in the rebuilding of Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Blair has instead been backing the U.S. government's plan to stay in sole charge of Iraq for the foreseeable future.
Short, who had threatened to resign during the build-up to the war was persuaded to stay on after she was promised that the British government would support a central role for the UN, and that she would have a strong role to play in the rebuilding process on behalf of the British government. The government has not kept its promises, she said.
"As you know, I thought the run-up to the conflict in Iraq was mishandled, but I agreed to stay in the government to help support the reconstruction effort for the people of Iraq," Short said in a resignation letter released by her office. "I am afraid that the assurances you gave me about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached."
Short said further: "The Security Council resolution that you and Jack [British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw] have so secretly negotiated, contradicts the assurances I have given in the House of Commons and elsewhere about the legal authority of the occupying powers, and the need for a UN-led process to establish a legitimate Iraqi government. This makes my position impossible. I am sad and sorry it has ended like this."
Foreign Office minister Baroness Amos, also the government's spokeswoman on international development in the House of Lords, replaces Short.
But there is widespread unease among development agencies over British government support for the U.S. rather than a UN-led administration in Iraq.
"It has been clear to many of us working in Iraq that the UN has a vital role to play," Will Day, chairman of the non-governmental Care International told IPS. "Our workers in Iraq tell us that the situation is crying out for a global legitimacy that only the UN can provide. Our staff cannot do any planning because of the insecurity. They are used to working in difficult situations, but this is chaotic and dangerous."
Day said that it had been Clare Short's position, as it was that of Care International that the UN has to be a "vital and fundamental" part of the solution. "Britain as a member of the UN Security Council must try to use its influence to achieve that," he said.
Several development agencies supported Short's insistence on reconstruction of Iraq under a UN administration. "Clare Short was right to say that the UN should be involved in Iraq," Jessica Woodroffe, head of policy at ActionAid, a leading British development NGO told IPS.
"The UN must play a key role. Only they can ensure that local people are central to reconstruction and that U.S. companies do not dominate the rebuilding process."
Furthermore, she said, "the UN is the only body with international legitimacy for weapons inspection."
The resignation of Short has meant the loss of a voice in the cabinet that was speaking up for a UN role, but has also meant the loss of an influential leader who has championed development causes.
"Clare Short's weaknesses were her strengths," Woodroffe said. "She took no prisoners. One in three people don't know where their next meal is coming from. Clare cared about that and continually reminded her colleagues that the needs of poor people must be at the centre of debates on aid."
She said that Baroness Amos who replaces her has excellent credentials for the job. But she pointed out that Baroness Amos had been appointed to the House of Lords, the upper house of parliament, and not been elected to the powerful House of Commons.
"Tony Blair must pledge that choosing someone from the Lords, rather than an MP, does not reflect a downgrading of commitment to the needs of poor people," she said.
Development groups point out that Short was instrumental in having the aid budget raised to 0.4 per cent of the GNI (Gross national Income). That is still short of the 0.7 per cent recommended by the UN, but it represented a significant advance.
Short also supported moves to untie aid from profits for domestic companies. That initiative won her many enemies among governments and industry at home and abroad. It led her into a constant tussle with influential players in the European Union (EU), particularly with the French government.
"Clare Short has been a high profile, passionate and powerful champion for development issues in the Cabinet, with the British public and on the international stage," Adrian Lovett, Director of Campaigns and Communications, Oxfam said in a statement following the resignation.
Despite their group's differences with Short, he said that "with her leadership, the aid budget has grown substantially and the UK has played a key role in lobbying for increased debt relief and improved terms of trade for developing countries."
He said the government should not allow the resignation of Clare Short to "derail efforts to overcome poverty, and must ensure that the role of Secretary of State stays at heart of cabinet.'"
But not all were agreed that Clare Short had done everything right for development. There has been particular concern at the separation of environmental issues from development issues.
"The Department for International Development has not always understood the relationship between environmental and development issues," Ian Willmore from Friends of the Earth told IPS.
"I'm not sure Clare Short was always very helpful in promoting that. She said at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, for instance that this was a development summit, and not an environment summit."
Willmore said that the picture was not entirely bad "because some of the work of the department was better than the rhetoric." But he said "I hope the incoming Secretary of State will try to move issues about environmental protection and sustainable development, and development and aid together again."
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