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Blair�s Big Lie

More on Blair's Big Lie
By David Morrison

'The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.'

The Prime Minister said this at a high-powered meeting on Iraq on 23 July 2002: he didn't want UN inspectors to enter Iraq again.

Could there be more conclusive proof that the peaceful disarmament of Iraq by inspection, as prescribed in Security Council resolutions, was the last thing on his mind?

* * * *

This is the most significant revelation in the minutes of the meeting published by the Sunday Times on 1 May 2005. The minutes took the form of a memo by Matthew Rycroft to the Prime Minister's Foreign Policy adviser, Sir David Manning. It was headed 'IRAQ: PRIME MINISTER'S MEETING, 23 JULY', and contained the warning:

'This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.'

In an accompanying article, journalist Michael Smith also quoted from a briefing paper, entitled Iraq: Conditions for Military Action, prepared by the Foreign Office for the meeting. The Daily Mail published other extracts from this paper on 3 May 2005, in an article by David Hughes and Michael Smith (see amended version in Australian Daily Telegraph on 4 May here).

The information in these documents confirms what is evident from the Manning and Meyer memos from March 2002, namely that, as early as a year before the invasion, the Prime Minister had given his wholehearted support to President Bush in taking military action to change the regime in Iraq and that the disarmament issue was merely a means of justifying, and gaining support for, military action.

Thus, for example, the Foreign Office paper states explicitly:

'When the prime minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change.'

And the first conclusion of the meeting of 23 July 2002 was:

'We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any [US] military action.'

The meeting was a very high-powered affair: those present included the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), John Scarlett, the head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove (aka C) and the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Boyce.

The Prime Minister's closest political advisers ' Alistair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and Sally Morgan ' were also present.

Scarlett summary
The meeting began with a report by John Scarlett. To quote from the minutes:

'John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.'

Nobody reading these remarks could possibly conclude that Scarlett was concerned with the disarmament of Iraq by non-military means, as prescribed in Security Council resolutions. Plainly, he was concerned with regime change by military means. He doesn't mention disarmament (and nor does anybody else, according to the minutes, though UN inspectors do get a mention as a means of creating a casus belli, of which more later).

Iraq no threat
The minutes also make it clear that the Prime Minister was committed to regime change, not because Iraq was known to possess a lethal, and growing, array of 'weapons of mass destruction', and was a threat to his neighbours and the wider world. Quite the reverse: as the Ricketts memo made clear, it was generally believed that Iraq had only limited quantities of chemical and biological weapons, and was little threat to anybody.

Jack Straw was minuted as saying:

'It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. [my emphasis]'

A smidgeon of difference
This matter is peripheral to the main argument here, but there appears to be a smidgeon of difference between the Foreign Secretary's privately expressed assessment of the threat from Iraq to its neighbours and the Prime Minister's publicly expressed assessments. For example, a few months earlier, on 10 April 2002, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons:

"' there is no doubt at all that the development of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein poses a severe threat not just to the region, but to the wider world.

and, later that day, he said that Saddam Hussein:

'' is a threat to his own people and to the region and, if allowed to develop these weapons, a threat to us also."

On 3 September 2002, at a press conference in his Sedgefield constituency, he said:

"Iraq poses a real and a unique threat to the security of the region and the rest of the world.'

And in his Foreword to the September dossier, published on 24 September 2002, he described Iraq armed with 'weapons of mass destruction' as 'a current and serious threat to the UK national interest'. He continued:

'I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current, that he has made progress on WMD, and that he has to be stopped."

Theoretically, the Foreign Secretary's private assessment can be reconciled with the Prime Minister's public assessments but, to do so, one must believe that Saddam Hussein took a summer holiday from threatening his neighbours in 2002 before resuming again in the autumn.

Wrongfooting Saddam
The minutes of the meeting of 23 July 2002 also confirm that the key element in the Prime Minister's plan to gain support at home and abroad for military action was to 'wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors', to use Christopher Meyer's phase in his memo to Sir David Manning.

In July 2002, there were no UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. They were withdrawn in December 1998 for their own safety at the request of Clinton and Blair, because the US/UK were about to embark on a bombing campaign against Iraq. After the bombing, Iraq understandably refused to allow them back in.

In July 2002, the plan was that Iraq be given an ultimatum, by means of a Security Council resolution, to re-admit UN inspectors or face military action.

Jack Straw proposed to the meeting:

'We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.'

The Prime Minister concurred:

'' it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. ' If the political context were right, people would support regime change.'

The disarmament of Iraq by peaceful means required UN inspectors being on the ground in Iraq. Yet, here the Prime Minister is expressing the hope that Saddam Hussein will refuse to allow in UN inspectors. It doesn't take a genius to conclude that, contrary to his countless public assertions, he wasn't interested in the disarmament of Iraq by peaceful means. Had this been his objective, he would have been hoping against hope that Iraq would admit UN inspectors so that it could proceed.

Of course, Saddam Hussein's refusal to admit inspectors 'would make a big difference politically and legally' if one wanted to justify, and gain support for, military action against Iraq, leading to regime change. In this 'political context', 'people would support regime change'. If Iraq refused to admit inspectors, it was likely that the Security Council could have been persuaded to authorise military action in a clear-cut manner. Then, there would have been no argument about the 'legality' of military action against Iraq ' it would have been authorised by the Security Council, ostensibly to enforce Security Council resolutions, but in reality Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power.

US sceptical

However, there was a problem with this approach in July 2002: the US administration was highly sceptical about taking the issue to the Security Council, and about attempting to get inspection restarted. Its inclination was to invade Iraq and overthrow the regime without specific authorisation from the Security Council, as it had just done in Afghanistan.

C, who had just returned from a visit to Washington, reported to the meeting that 'the NSC [National Security Council] had no patience with the UN route'. Straw proposed to the meeting that 'despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum'. This was agreed, one of the conclusions of the meeting being that the Foreign Secretary would 'discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam'.

Straw proffered the opinion at the meeting that 'Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN'. Straw was wrong: on 16 September 2002, Iraq announced that it would allow inspectors back in, which made it more awkward to pursue the ultimatum plan, even though by then the US administration had agreed to it.

Inspections blocked

Plainly, it wasn't possible to get Saddam Hussein to refuse inspections, and thereby create a casus belli, if inspectors were already on the ground in Iraq, so the US/UK had to stop Iraq's offer to admit inspectors being taken up. This required a swift about turn from clamouring for Iraq to admit inspectors to preventing the inspectors going in. Colin Powell told the House of Representatives International Relations Committee on 19 September 2002 that ways would be found to thwart the inspectors going in.

Ways were found. So, at a time when the Prime Minister was telling the House of Commons that Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes were 'active, detailed and growing', he was working with the US to prevent inspection restarting, inspection that might have put a brake on this activity (if it was actually happening). It was two months before inspections began.

Resolution 1441

And it was no thanks to the US/UK that inspections began at all. The US/UK hoped that the Security Council would pass a resolution, prescribing an inspection regime that would be unacceptable to Saddam Hussein, and authorising military action if he refused. The draft resolution they proposed on 2 October 2002, which was passed as resolution 1441 on 8 November 2002 after considerable amendment, contained the following provisions (in paragraph 5):

(1) 'any permanent member of the Security Council may request to be represented on any inspection team with the same rights and protections accorded other members of the team'

(2) 'teams shall be accompanied at their bases by sufficient UN security forces to protect them'

(3) '[teams] shall have the right to declare for the purpose of this resolution no-fly/no-drive zones, exclusion zones, and/or ground and air transit corridors, (which shall be enforced by UN security forces or by member states)'

So, if this had been approved by the Council, US/UK forces would have been authorised to enter Iraq on the pretext of being part of the inspection process. And if Iraq refused to accept these provisions, the draft resolution authorised member states 'to use all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the area' (paragraph 10). In other words, if Saddam Hussein refused to accept inspectors on these terms, the US/UK would have been unambiguously authorised by the Security Council to take military action against Iraq. In this event, there would have been no argument about the 'legality' of military action against Iraq.

But the US/UK didn't get their way: with France taking the lead, the special rights afforded to permanent members of the Council in the inspection process were removed, together with any suggestion that they could put forces on the ground in Iraq as part of the inspection process and the explicit authorisation of the use of force.

France voiced its objections to these provisions in the Security Council on 16 October 2002 in the following terms:

'' we reject measures that would in fact multiply the risk of incidents without improving the effectiveness of the work carried out by UNMOVIC and the IAEA. We also set store by the multinational, independent nature of the inspectors; any measure countering this fundamental element would be tantamount to repeating past mistakes [when US/UK intelligence operatives were part of UNSCOM] and would not have our support.'

France was interested in making practical arrangements for verifying the disarmament of Iraq by inspection. The US/UK were interested in putting conditions on inspection which Iraq wouldn't accept, so that inspectors would never enter Iraq again, and they would have an excuse for military action to overthrow the regime.

Wrongfooting failure

This attempt to 'wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors' failed: Iraq accepted inspection on the terms laid down in resolution 1441, while repeating that it had no 'weapons of mass destruction', which was true. Inspectors were allowed access to all sites in Iraq, and were allowed to destroy al-Samoud missiles, which were only marginally, if at all, beyond the 150 km range permitted by the original disarmament resolution (687).

The US/UK were in an awkward spot. How were they to justify overthrowing the Iraqi regime militarily, when it was obviously co-operating with the inspection process, and 11 out of the 15 members of the Security Council held the reasonable opinion that inspection should continue? They couldn't even persuade the Security Council to agree that Iraq was in breach of resolution 1441 ' this was what their draft 'second' resolution said ' let alone explicitly authorise military action because Iraq was in breach. They never even tried to do the latter, presumably because they thought it completely out of the question.

Goldsmith's mumbo jumbo

This meant that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, had to work overtime to make a case that the use of force to effect regime change in March 2003 was already authorised by existing Security Council resolutions, and that the 'second' resolution wasn't necessary after all. See his written answer to Baroness Ramsey on 17 March 2003.

The source of this authority lay, Lord Goldsmith said, in resolution 678, passed on 29 November 1990, which authorised the use of force to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. It is not obvious why this resolution, passed for an entirely different purpose before any disarmament resolution was passed, could be said to authorise military action to enforce disarmament 12 years later ' especially, since 12 years later, military action was opposed by 11 out of the 15 members of the Council. Nevertheless, Lord Goldsmith asserted that, if Iraq was in breach of 1441, resolution 678 passed in November 1990 authorised the use of force in March 2003.

But, who was to determine that Iraq was in breach of 1441? The Security Council had refused to do so by passing the 'second' resolution. The US had always held the (convenient) opinion that any member state of the UN could decide if Iraq was in breach of Security Council resolutions, but no other state agreed with this proposition ' until 17 March 2003, when Lord Goldsmith decided that the US was right after all.

So, as explained in the Butler Report (paragraphs 383-5), Lord Goldsmith wrote to the Prime Minister on 14 March 2003 seeking confirmation that it was the UK's view that Iraq was in breach of 1441. The Prime Minister replied the next day saying, surprise, surprise, that Iraq was in breach. If our domestic courts worked on this principle, we would have a 100% conviction rate.

This mumbo jumbo, in which the Prime Minister himself acted as the sole arbiter of fact, has enabled him to assert in March 2003, and re-assert continuously since, that it was 'legal' to take military action against Iraq to enforce Security Council disarmament resolutions.

Alternative: continue inspections

Of course, even if one accepts that the action was 'legal' (whatever this means), the political decision to proceed was a separate matter. In his address to the nation on 20 March 2003, as British forces went into action, the Prime Minister justified this decision as follows:

'For 12 years, the world tried to disarm Saddam ' . UN weapons inspectors say vast amounts of chemical and biological poisons, such as anthrax, VX nerve agent, and mustard gas remain unaccounted for in Iraq.

'So our choice is clear: back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened; or proceed to disarm him by force. Retreat might give us a moment of respite but years of repentance at our weakness would I believe follow.'

But, if one was committed to disarmament rather than regime change, the alternative to military action in March 2003 was not 'to back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened': it was to continue inspections. Even if one believed that Iraq had an arsenal of proscribed weapons and was manufacturing more, there was no need to invade Iraq, and overthrow the regime, in order to disarm it.

Inspection could have continued indefinitely and it stands to reason that, while inspection and other forms of surveillance were going on, Iraq's ability to manufacture agents and weapons and deploy them, assuming it had a mind to, would be greatly inhibited.

The Government had intelligence to that effect ' the Government's official response to the Intelligence & Security Committee report of September 2003 said so:

'The Government accepts that the inhibiting effect of the UN inspections was relevant ' . The JIC Assessments produced in October and December 2002 and again in March 2003 reflected this point. In December 2002 the JIC specifically pointed out that Iraq's ability to use CBW might be constrained by the difficulty of producing more whilst UN inspectors were present.' (paragraph 21)

Understandably, the Prime Minister did not share this intelligence with the House of Commons, lest MPs got the impression that the continuation of inspections was an effective alternative to military action in order to disarm Iraq.

The bottom line was that the continuation of inspections was not an effective alternative for a Prime Minister who refused to budge in his support for regime change.

Other matters in minutes

The minutes of the 23 July 2002 meeting contain a number of other interesting snippets:-

(1) C on US intentions

C reported on his recent talks in Washington:

'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.'

The US administration making up intelligence and facts to justify policy? That couldn't be true, could it?

(2) CDS on war plans

The CDS reported that the US had two broad options for military action. One, referred to as 'Generated Start', involved the build up of large numbers of troops over a few months (which was the one eventually used). The other, referred to as 'Running Start', involved using the troops already in theatre plus airpower. The latter was to be 'initiated by an Iraqi casus belli', according to the CDS.

Could it be that the US was going to pretend to be attacked by Iraqi forces, and respond accordingly? And the Prime Minister was prepared to go along with this deception?

(3) Hoon on 'spikes of activity'

Geoff Hoon reported that 'the US had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime'.

This refers to bombing activity by US/UK aircraft patrolling the No Fly Zones in Northern and Southern Iraq. The official story was that these aircraft bombed Iraqi air defence systems, only if they were 'threatened' by these systems. But, in the spring and summer of 2002, suspicions grew that the bombing of Iraqi installations had increased dramatically. This was confirmed in a Ministry of Defence reply to a written question from Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, on 27 November 2002, which showed that in 2002 the amount of ordinance used had grown from nothing in March, through 0.3 tons in April to 7.3 in May, 10.4 in June, 9.5 in July, 14.1 in August and 54.6 in September.

This is what Hoon euphemistically referred to as 'spikes of activity'. In reality, it was part of a process of softening up Iraqi air defences in preparation for war.

Prime Minister confronted
On three occasions recently (twice in election week) the Prime Minister was confronted in interviews with the fact that his Foreign Policy adviser, Sir David Manning, told the US administration in March 2002 that he 'would not budge in' his 'support for regime change':

(1) On the Jonathan Dimbleby Programme on ITV1, on 13 March 2005

(2) On the election programme, ASK THE LEADER on ITV1, presented by Jonathan Dimbleby, on 2 May 2005, and

(3) On Today, on Radio 4, on 4 May 2005, when he was interviewed by John Humphries

In the first of these, the Prime Minister's strategy was to deny that his stated refusal to budge referred to regime change. Instead, he pretended that it referred to the enforcement of the Security Council resolutions on disarmament. For example, he said:

'What he [Manning] said was this: we have to be absolutely clear that the development of WMD in breach of the United Nations resolutions will no longer be tolerated. ... it's that we would not budge in insisting that the United Nations resolutions that were outstanding, that had been outstanding for many years, were actually enforced and that was the crucial thing ...'

This is a straightforward lie: his unwillingness to budge, as reported by Manning, referred specifically to regime change. Furthermore, there is no mention whatsoever in the memo of outstanding United Nations disarmament resolutions, let alone that Blair would not budge from their implementation.

By the time he came to be interviewed in election week, the Prime Minister had prepared a different, and more plausible, defence, saying that he was always committed to regime change as a last resort, if disarmament couldn't be achieved by any other means. For example, he told Jonathan Dimbleby:

'If you couldn't enforce the UN resolutions by any other route, then you'd have to go down the route of regime change. '

'Now if it had been, as you say, and, as parts of the media have suggested, I'd made up my mind for regime change, come what may, what was the purpose of going back to the United Nations? '

'We went back to the United Nations in November. We got a resolution that said Saddam Hussein now had to let the inspectors back into Iraq; he has to comply immediately fully and unconditionally with them. He didn't do so and that is the reason why we went to war.'

This makes sense until you remember

(a) that it wasn't necessary to go back to the United Nations in November 2002 in order to get inspectors back into Iraq ' since Iraq had agreed in September 2002 to allow them in but he and his friends in Washington blocked them, and

(b) that the Prime Minister was so enthusiastic for disarmament by inspection that he made it clear to the meeting on 23 July 2002 that he hoped that Iraq would not admit inspectors ' and thereby provide a pretext for regime change.

The dialogue with John Humphries was on similar lines, and neither Jonathan Dimbleby nor John Humphries managed to breach his defence.

May 2005


Blair's Big Lie
By David Morrison

In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, the Prime Minister continually stated that his objective was the disarmament of Iraq as laid down in Security Council resolutions, and not regime change. For example, on 25 February 2003, he told the House of Commons:

'I detest his [Saddam Hussein's] regime ' I hope most people do ' but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.'

In fact, a year earlier, the Prime Minister had already offered his wholehearted support to President Bush in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

This is proved by documents leaked to the Daily Telegraph last September, which are now in the public domain. Facsimiles of them are on my website (see links below).

The story begins '

'I said [to Condoleeza Rice] that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States [my emphasis].'

These are the words of Sir David Manning in a memo to the Prime Minister on 14 March 2002, when he was the Prime Minister's Foreign Policy adviser. Sir David was reporting to the Prime Minister on discussions in Washington with Condoleezza Rice, who was then President Bush's National Security adviser.

In other words, in March 2002 the US administration was given an assurance that the Prime Minister was unflinching in his commitment to regime change in Iraq, and not merely to the disarmament as prescribed by Security Council resolutions. Since Sir David remained the Prime Minister's Foreign Policy adviser (and was subsequently promoted to be British Ambassador to Washington) after writing this memo, it can be taken for granted that Sir David had accurately transmitted the Prime Minister's view to the US administration.

The Prime Minister's unflinching commitment to regime change in March 2002 is confirmed by another memo, this one from the British Ambassador in Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, to Sir David himself. This reported on a conversation with Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defense Secretary, on 17 March 2002. The next day, Sir Christopher wrote:

'I opened by sticking very closely to the script that you used with Condi Rice. We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option. It would be a tough sell for us domestically, and probably tougher elsewhere in Europe [my emphasis].'

Parliament not told

Of course, neither Parliament nor the public was told at the time, or ever, that 'we backed regime change'. On the contrary, on many occasions in the following 12 months, the Prime Minister specifically denied that 'we backed regime change'.

For example, when he launched the September dossier in the House of Commons on 24 September 2002, he was asked if regime change was his objective. He replied:

'Regime change in Iraq would be a wonderful thing. That is not the purpose of our action; our purpose is to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction ''

Speaking on Radio Monte Carlo on 14 November 2002, he said:

'So far as our objective, it is disarmament, not regime change ' that is our objective ' . I have got no doubt either that the purpose of our challenge from the United Nations is disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, it is not regime change.'

On 25 February 2003, he told the House of Commons that Saddam Hussein could stay in power if he gave up his proscribed weapons:

'I detest his regime ' I hope most people do ' but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.'

On 18 March 2003, in proposing the resolution for war, he told the House of Commons:

'I have never put the justification for action as regime change. We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441 ' that is our legal base.'

These memos prove that the Prime Minister's misleading of Parliament on Iraq was much more fundamental than merely exaggerating intelligence (which has been meticulously documented by Glen Rangwala and Dan Plesch in A Case to Answer). They prove that his objective from the outset was regime change and that he dressed it up as disarmament in order to manipulate Parliament (in particular, the Parliamentary Labour Party) into supporting military action against Iraq.

The impression was given in the autumn of 2002 that the Prime Minister had persuaded President Bush to modify his position from regime change to disarmament. In reality, from the outset he shared the President's objective of regime change, but persuaded the President to co-operate in dressing it up as disarmament.

Is there any doubt that disarmament was merely the central element in a clever plan to manage the press, Parliament and public opinion into supporting military action with the objective of changing the regime in Iraq?

This was a deception on a par with Eden's prior to Suez.

US/UK blocks inspection

There was a good deal of circumstantial evidence in the months prior to military action that the US/UK were not going to settle for disarmament as prescribed by Security Council resolutions. This began with their refusal to allow inspection to restart in September 2002.

On 16 September 2002, Iraq stated its willingness to admit UN weapons inspectors. Up to then, the US/UK had been clamouring for Iraq to do just that. But, when Iraq said Yes, the US/UK refused to take Yes for an answer. Other members of the Security Council, for example, France and Russia, were in favour of inspection beginning right away. But the US/UK opposed that. See, for example, the BBC report here.

On 19 September 2002, US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, gave evidence to the House of Representatives International Relations Committee and was asked what the administration would do 'if, within the Security Council, some of the permanent representatives, France, Russia, China, would insist on proceeding with inspections under the current existing UN regime'. He replied:

'We would oppose it. We would oppose it. ' And if somebody tried to move the team in now, we would find ways to thwart that.'

Around this time, the Prime Minister was warning the British public of a growing danger from Iraq's proscribed weapons. On 24 September 2002, he told the House of Commons:

'' [Saddam Hussein's] chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programme is not an historic left-over from 1998. The inspectors are not needed to clean up the old remains. His weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing.'

Despite this, he and his friends in Washington were at the same time preventing the inspectors re-entering Iraq. This was not the action of someone committed to disarming Iraq by inspection.

The excuse given for this apparently bizarre behaviour was that the inspection regime prescribed in existing Security Council resolutions wasn't tough enough and that there must be a new resolution laying down tougher conditions. This makes no sense, since the presence of inspectors on the ground, even with restrictions on their movement, would obviously render the production and deployment of proscribed weapons more difficult. As such, it would have been some form of constraint on what the Prime Minister said was the growing threat from Iraq's proscribed weapons. Yet, the Prime Minister worked to stop this constraint being applied.

The sensible course of action in these circumstances was to send the inspectors in as soon as possible and to lay down tougher conditions later, if necessary. Because the US/UK prevented this happening, two months' inspection time was lost ' and Iraq had two more months to produce and deploy proscribed weapons, if we are to believe the Prime Minister.

Stopping inspectors entering Iraq in September 2002 made no sense if the objective was the disarmament of Iraq by inspection, especially since the danger from its proscribed weapons was allegedly growing.

Why block inspection?

So what were the US/UK up to in blocking inspection? The clue is in Sir David Manning's memo to the Prime Minister, where he writes that 'renwed refused [sic] by Saddam to accept unfettered inspections would be a powerful argument' for military action. In similar vein, Sir Christopher Meyer reported that, having assured Paul Wolfowitz that 'we backed regime change', he told him:

'The US could go it alone if it wanted to. But if it wanted to act with partners, there had to be a strategy for building support for military action against Saddam. I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors ' '

The hope was that the Security Council could be persuaded to prescribe an inspection regime that was so unpalatable to Saddam Hussein that he would refuse to allow inspectors in ' which would, in Sir David's words, be 'a powerful argument' for military action. In other words, Plan A was that UN inspectors would never enter Iraq again, that Saddam Hussein would refuse them entry, and by so doing provide a casus belli.

This strategy was obviously incompatible with allowing inspection to restart once Iraq gave permission on 16 September 2002, and therefore the US/UK blocked it.

Wrongfooting Saddam

In furtherance of the strategy to 'wrongfoot Saddam', the US/UK attempted to get the Security Council to pass a resolution which

(a) laid down conditions which Iraq couldn't possibly accept, and

(b) clearly authorised military action in that event without further recourse to the Council.

The original US/UK draft of what eventually became resolution 1441 was geared to achieve this objective: specifically, it

(a) allowed the US/UK to put their troops on the ground in Iraq as part of the inspection process, and

(b) in the event of a breach of the resolution, it authorised UN member states 'to use all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the area'.

Had the resolution been passed in its original form, and had Iraq refused to admit inspectors, a US/UK invasion of Iraq would have been unambiguously authorised by the Security Council.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, they were forced by France and others to modify their draft 1441 significantly

(a) to soften the inspection regime demanded of Iraq (so that it wasn't significantly different to that prescribed in earlier Security Council resolutions), and

(b) to remove the authorisation of use of force, without further reference to the Security Council, in the event of Iraq's non-compliance ' the inspectors were required to report breaches of the resolution to the Security Council, which would then convene 'in order to consider the situation'.

The US/UK had to accept these amendments, otherwise they would have suffered the humiliation of failing to get a new resolution.

Thanks to France and others, resolution 1441, passed on 8 November 2002, was acceptable to Iraq, which then allowed inspectors in. The US/UK were denied an immediate casus belli

Not co-operating fully?

Another had to be found: it had to be that Iraq was not co-operating fully with the inspectors. It was difficult to convince the world of this, since Iraq allowed unfettered access to all sites, and even allowed the destruction of Al Samoud missiles that were only marginally beyond the permitted range, if that. In the face of this evidence of Iraq's co-operation, it wasn't surprising that the US/UK failed to convince 11 out of the 15 members of the Security Council to support military action because Iraq wasn't co-operating. As a result, they ended up taking military action against the will of the Security Council, in order, they said, to enforce the will of the Security Council.

By March 2003, after 3 months' inspection, no significant quantities of proscribed agents or weapons had been found (apart from the Al Samoud missiles, which were in the process of being destroyed). All of the sites named in the September dossier as possibly being used for agent/weapons production were visited by inspectors in December 2002 and January 2003. They found no evidence of current, or recent, production activity. Other sites, nominated to the inspectors by the CIA and MI6, were also visited with the same result.

Faced with this lack of evidence that Iraq possessed proscribed weapons, the Prime Minister's response was to publish the largely plagiarised February dossier, entitled Iraq - its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation. Its purpose was to explain that the UN inspectors' failure to find any proscribed material was due to Iraq's hiding it, rather than to its non-existence.

The Butler Report understandably expresses 'surprise that policy-makers and the intelligence community did not, as the generally negative results of UNMOVIC inspections became increasingly apparent, re-evaluate in early-2003 the quality of the intelligence' (paragraph 472).

A Prime Minister committed to the disarmament of Iraq by inspection would have ordered such a re-evaluation. He might even have ordered the intelligence community to explain to him again why they didn't believe Saddam Hussein's son-in'law, Kamel Hussein, when, after his defection in August 1995, he told UNSCOM (as well as the CIA and MI6) that all Iraq's proscribed agents and weapons were destroyed on his orders in 1991 (as has now been confirmed by the Iraq Survey Group).

But the last thing a Prime Minister committed to regime change wanted to hear in March 2003 was any suggestion that Iraq had no proscribed weapons. That would have removed his excuse for taking military action.

Leaked documents

The memos from Manning to Blair and from Meyer to Manning were among a group of six official documents from March 2002, leaked to the Daily Telegraph in September 2004. They were the subject of Daily Telegraph articles on 18 September 2004. Facsimiles of all these documents are now in the public domain. In chronological order, they are:

(1) Iraq: Options Paper, prepared by the Overseas & Defence Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, dated 8 March, see here

(2) Iraq: Legal Background, prepared by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office Legal Department, dated 8 March, see here

(3) Memo from Sir David Manning to the Prime Minister, dated 14 March, see here

(4) Memo from Sir Christopher Meyer to Sir David Manning, dated 18 March, see here

(5) Memo from Peter Ricketts, Political Director, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, to the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, dated 22 March, see here

(6) Memo from Jack Straw to the Prime Minister, dated 25 March, see here

As its name implies, the Options Paper sets out the options regarding Iraq, one of which is regime change by military invasion. It was one of what the Butler report (paragraph 610) called 'excellent quality papers' written by officials on Iraq, which were never discussed in Cabinet or in Cabinet Committee.

The contents of the four memos reinforce the view that by March 2002 the Prime Minister was determined to support the US in effecting regime change by military means. There is no discussion in them of the pros and cons of regime change, or of Britain's taking part in the military action alongside the US to effect regime change. The underlying assumption is that the US is going to take military action to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and that Britain will take part in this action. The central concern in the memos is one of presentation, that is, how to dress up the process in order to secure public and parliamentary support for military action.

Sir Christopher says he lied

Sir Christopher Meyer addressed a meeting of the Politics Society at Peterhouse College, Cambridge on 8 February 2005, and the passage from his memo about backing regime change was quoted to him. He didn't deny the authenticity of the quotation, but said that there was such a thing as diplomacy which involved saying one thing to one person and something else to another [Mike Lewis, private communication].

So, we are supposed to believe that Sir Christopher (and Sir David Manning) told the US administration that the Prime Minister 'backed regime change', when all the Prime Minister ever wanted was that Iraq disarm, in accordance with Security Council resolutions. And he told this lie with the authority of the Prime Minister, otherwise he (and Sir David) would have been dismissed from their posts. Unfortunately for Sir Christopher, this is not borne out by the rest of his memo (or by the other memos), which speak of the disarmament issue, not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end, the end being to gain support in Britain and other states for military action against Iraq.

Peter Ricketts' problem

In his memo to Jack Straw, Peter Ricketts identified the lack of evidence of a growing threat from Iraq's proscribed weapons as a 'problem', which would make it difficult to secure this support. He wrote:

'The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes, but our tolerance of them post-11 September. '

'But even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts: the programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.

'US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qa'eda is so far frankly unconvincing.

'To get public and Parliamentary support for military options we have to be convincing that

- the threat is so serious/imminent that it is worth sending our troops to die for;

- it is qualitatively different from the threat posed by other proliferators who are closer to achieving nuclear capability (including Iran).'

The existence of this 'problem' is confirmed by the JIC assessment of 15 March 2002, which didn't suggest that Iraq's proscribed weapons constituted a growing threat:

'Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programmes is sporadic and patchy. [...] From the evidence available to us, we believe Iraq retains some production equipment, and some small stocks of CW agent precursors, and may have hidden small quantities of agents and weapons. [...] There is no intelligence on any BW agent production facilities but one source indicates that Iraq may have developed mobile production facilities.' (Butler report, Annex B)

However, the Prime Minister had a solution to the 'problem': it was to say that Iraq had lots of terrifying 'weapons of mass destruction' and was an awful threat to his neighbours and the wider world. The fact that this was not justified by the available intelligence did not appear to concern him. A couple of weeks after Ricketts identified this 'problem' to Jack Straw, the Prime Minister told NBC news on 4 April 2002:

'We know that he [Saddam Hussein] has stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons, we know that he is trying to acquire nuclear capability, we know that he is trying to develop ballistic missile capability of a greater range.'

The 'small quantities' that might exist, according to the JIC assessment of 15 March 2002, were transformed by the Prime Minister into 'stockpiles' that definitely did exist. Problem solved. This was not an isolated instance of gross prime ministerial exaggeration, which had accidentally slipped out: he made several statements in a similar vein around that time ' and he continued to make them over the next 12 months.

April 2005




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