LONDON, April 26 — In a rebuke to British and American policy in the Middle East, 52 former ambassadors and senior government officials today criticized Prime Minister Tony Blair for his unflinching support for the Bush administration's approach to postwar Iraq and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The letter, delivered to Mr. Blair's office and released to the news media, asserted that those policies were "doomed to failure." In response, a spokesman for Mr. Blair defended the government's policies.
The diplomats, who include former ambassadors to Israel, Iraq and other Middle East capitals as well as senior British envoys to the United Nations, accused both governments of abandoning important principles of impartiality in the Holy Land, while engaging in poor planning and military overkill against Iraqi resistance forces in the Sunni Muslim areas west of Baghdad and in Shiite Muslim strongholds around Najaf.
"It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders," the letter said, adding, "Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition."
The diplomats said that the decision by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations to launch a "road map" to peace between Israelis and Palestinians had "raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the West and the Islamic and Arab worlds."
But instead of pressing ahead, the diplomats said, "Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the road map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain."
A spokesman for Mr. Blair defended the government's policies as energetic in the pursuit of peace and stability. He said that the letter would be studied and a reply drafted. The pointed criticism from career diplomats, all Middle East specialists, who served both Labor and Conservative prime ministers, put Mr. Blair's government immediately on the defensive at a crucial moment of post war crisis and diplomacy. In recent weeks, Mr. Blair's influence in Washington has been questioned as intensely as his influence in Europe, where Britain seeking to play a bridging role.
Political sovereignty in Iraq is due to be turned over to an interim government in nine weeks, as Britain and the United States are seeking to bolster their occupation forces to take account of Spain's withdrawal of 1,400 soldiers.
A British ministry of defense spokeswoman appeared to confirm reports that as many as 2,000 more British troops might be dispatched to supplement the 7,500 soldiers in Iraq, saying that "in light of recent events" discussions were under way "with coalition partners" on troop levels required to cope with a wave of instability that in expected to peak with the turnover of power on June 30.
Today's letter came as a surprise, and Mr. Blair's aides were seeking to reiterate his arguments that he believed the road map to peace in the Holy Land might get a boost from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to pull forces and Israeli settlers out of the Gaza Strip.
"The authors of the letter are entitled to their views," said a government spokesman. "The prime minister and President Bush made it clear that they are still committed to a two-state solution in the Middle East" and they "see the Israeli offer as an opportunity to get back into the road map after months of limited progress."
On Iraq, he said, "Removing the regime of Saddam Hussein has removed a threat to international peace and security and gives Iraq an opportunity for democracy."
One long-serving Middle East envoy who did not sign the letter, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who has just returned from a six-month tour in Iraq as Mr. Blair's representative in the occupation authority, complained that his colleagues had failed to "prescribe any alternatives" to the current policies.
"Let's have a bit of persistence in finishing this job," he said in an interview. Nonetheless, Sir Jeremy added that he, too, expressed criticism in Baghdad of some policies because he believed that the "coalition had been careless about killing civilians" and that the initial phase of the military assault on Falluja "was not handled the way it should have been."
Still, he said, there now is a "clear political process" in Iraq, based on negotiation and a more precise use of force. The former diplomats, he said, "should be more balanced" in their assessment.
Among the diplomats who signed the letter were Marrack Goulding, a former undersecretary for political affairs at the United Nations, and Sir Crispin Tickell, the former British ambassador to the United Nations. Francis Cornish, a former ambassador to Israel, signed, as did two former ambassadors to Baghdad, Sir Terence Clark and Hooky Walker.
Oliver Miles, who served as a senior envoy in Yemen and later, in Greece, said in an interview that "there has been a lot of frustration among military, diplomatic and intelligence colleagues about the war in Iraq" and many felt it was time "to address ourselves to the prime minister," an act he said was well within the traditions of British public service.
The diplomats were blunt in their dissatisfaction with Mr. Blair's support for American policies in the Holy Land.
After announcing the road map and the strong international support for it, "the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood.
"Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land," the letter said.
"This abandonment of principle comes at a time when rightly or wrongly we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq," it added.
The diplomats said that they shared Mr. Blair's view that Britain has an interest in working closely with the United States in order to exert "real influence as a loyal ally."
But now is the time, they said, to use such influence, and if it is unwelcome in the Bush administration, then "there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company