Iraq 'undermines' UK's global influence

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The government's "misadventure" in Iraq has compromised the UK's ability to intervene to protect human rights in other parts of the world, Oxfam has said.

In a report released today, the aid charity said that Britain's involvement in Iraq had undermined its prospects of preventing genocide and war crimes, such as those which occurred in Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, in the future.

But Oxfam also stressed that the UK's foreign policy was "at a crossroads" and warned any successor to Tony Blair as prime minister against pursuing a more "cautious" approach to the world's problems, referring to "potentially catastrophic consequences" for innocent civilians if future governments were to turn a blind eye in order to avoid another "debacle" like Iraq.

The report, A Fair Foreign Policy, said that Britain's involvement in Iraq had already impeded its ability to intervene to protect citizens from unrest in Sudan's Darfur region. It also stressed that the country's wider policy in the Middle East had undermined its global reputation, particularly its "one-sided" approach to the crisis in Lebanon last summer, when the government allied itself with the US and Israel.

However, Oxfam has also released a poll showing that 67 per cent of Britons would support sending troops in to a region in the future as a last resort in order to prevent genocide and other atrocities.

The aid agency also praised the current government's efforts in focusing the attention of the G8 nations on the plight of Africa and for intervening to protect civilians threatened by the civil war in Sierra Leone in 2000.

Oxfam has now called on the UK to pursue a more multilateral and consistent approach to foreign policy in the future, with the need to protect civilians representing a "cornerstone" governing its engagements abroad.

It also wants future administrations to help reunite the United Nations (UN), which it claims is still "deeply divided" following the Iraq war.

"The Iraq war was a terrible misadventure, but it must not cause future prime ministers to return to the caution of the previous Conservative government," warned Oxfam director Barbara Stocking.

"That administration stood by while the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda unfolded. We must say 'never again' as much to our failure to stop these atrocities, as to repeating Iraq," she added.

But responding to the report, a spokesman for the Foreign Office denied that the UK's foreign influence had diminished as a result of the Iraq war.

"On the contrary the UK remains at the heart of every major international debate and our influence as consensus builders is recognised worldwide," said the spokesman, who repeated the government's insistence that its intervention in Iraq was "justified".

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