By Ray Fleming

One of the most moving warnings about the humanitarian disaster that can follow military action of the kind contemplated against Iraq - whether or not it is undertaken with United Nations authority - has been given by Sadako Ogata who was United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the time of the 1991 Gulf War. She has written of the scenes she witnessed in Iraq in the aftermath of the successful and swift military action, with more than two million refugees on the move, on foot, in cars, buses, trucks and tractors: “I am haunted by those images - the frightened faces of exhausted children, the women desperate to find some crumbs to feed their families, the elderly shivering with inadequate winter clothing.” Mrs Ogata describes how she visited the White House to appeal to President Bush to allow American forces in the North of Iraq to stay longer: “He responded that he understood my concerns but said they had to leave, lest they be accused of imperialist designs.” The circumstances this time will be different and both Britain and the United States have pledged that they will remain to return Iraq to normality when the fighting is over. But war is never predictable and even with the most careful possible planning the innocent, the poor and the defenceless always seem in the end to be those who suffer most.