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Downing Street Directive

By Monica Mehta, AlterNet
Posted on June 13, 2005, Printed on June 13, 2005

A number of citizen groups and Democratic politicians are launching an initiative to investigate information contained in newly unearthed British memos on the war in Iraq, and to demand answers from President Bush.

The memorandums provide further evidence that Bush's administration had no reasonable plan for achieving stability or rebuilding Iraq after the war, and build on earlier memos that state it was "fixing" intelligence information to remove Saddam Hussein months before the war started.

Representative John Conyers, along with 89 members of Congress, have openly asked the administration to address claims it cooked the books to justify the war. On Thursday, June 16, Conyers and other Democrats will hold "Memogate hearings" in Washington D.C. to listen to testimony concerning the British documents and the administration's efforts to manipulate data concerning Iraq.

The hearing "will attempt to answer the serious constitutional questions raised by these revelations," according to the umbrella group, a coalition of veterans' groups, peace groups and political activist groups that will join the effort. After the hearing, Conyers and fellow Democrats will deliver a petition to the White House demanding that President Bush "directly address the evidence in the Downing St. Memo of intelligence manipulation and public deceit in the rush to invade Iraq."

The most recent documents, dated July 21, 2002, state that U.S. "military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace," but "little thought" had been given to "the aftermath and how to shape it." The U.S. had no plans for "what happens on the morning after [attacking Iraq]....A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise." British officials go on to warn that "the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."

The papers also reveal how the British struggled with how to provide legality to an unprovoked attack on Iraq, given that, in the words of the memo, the "U.S. scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al [Qaida] is so far frankly unconvincing."

What has come to be known as the Downing Street Memo, disclosed by the Sunday Times of London on May 1, is top British aide Matthew Rycroft's record of the minutes of a meeting of Blair's senior policy aides on July 23, 2002. In it, among other things, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw acknowledged that the case for war was "thin" as "Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran." The memo also said that Britain and America had to "create" conditions to justify a war, and that "military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

In a joint press conference last week, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair denied the statements, insisting that intelligence was not "fixed" to justify the war, as the memo clearly states.

The documents add to mounting evidence that the administration provided false justification for the invasion of Iraq, supporting what numerous individuals, including former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and former National Security Council official Richard Clarke, have said about Bush's real reasons for attacking Iraq.

"As early as Nov. 21, 2001," the New York Times reported, "Mr. Bush directed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to begin a review of what could be done to oust Mr. Hussein." Following such reports, numerous progressive groups and activists including Ralph Nader have called for a national discourse on the impeachment of Bush.

The Bush administration's lack of adequate planning for Iraq after the war has also been extensively reported. The Pentagon ignored State Department studies on establishing order after the invasion, and, according to the Washington Post, "administration officials have acknowledged the mistake of dismantling the Iraqi army and canceling pensions to its veteran officers -- which many say hindered security, enhanced anti-U.S. feeling, and aided what would become a violent insurgency."

Officials also grossly miscalculated the cost of the war, which as of May ballooned to $208 billion according to the Congressional Research Service.

There is no timetable for the withdrawal of the nearly 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq; as of Friday, the number of Americans killed in action reached 1,293. A new Gallup poll finds that nearly six in 10 Americans say the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq.

"Patience for the war has dropped sharply as optimism about the Iraqi elections in January has ebbed and violence against U.S. troops hasn't abated," according to USA Today."For the first time, a majority of Americans say they would be "upset" if President Bush sent more troops. A new low, 36%, say troop levels should be "maintained or increased."

Of those against the war, "the top reasons cited are fraudulent claims and no weapons of mass destruction found; the number of people killed and wounded; and the belief that Iraq posed no threat to the United States."

Monica Mehta is an associate editor at AlterNet.

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