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Denver Post Editorial

Downing Street memos on Iraq

Another confidential British memo has surfaced to fan fresh criticism about the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war. This time, the issue is whether the Bush administration ignored warnings to plan for the war's complicated aftermath.

The document, like another British memo - the so-called Downing Street memo that was leaked last month - echoes reports from 2002 when experts predicted a quick U.S. military victory followed by a difficult period of stabilizing Iraq. Even then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell worried that the Defense Department wasn't doing enough post-war planning.

The force of the British memo comes from the clarity of its language. It was written July 21, 2002, and its warning - that "a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise" - now looks prophetic. The memo said, "U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point . . . Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired end state is created, in particular what form of government might replace Saddam Hussein's regime and the time scale within which it would be possible to identify a successor."

A White House spokesman said the memo was off-base. "There was significant postwar planning," said David Almacy. "More importantly, the memo in question was written eight months before the war began; there was significant postwar planning in the time that elapsed."

Yet the memo's warning should have carried weight, as it was written by British intelligence chief Sir Richard Dearlove.

The eight-page memo, titled, "Iraq: Conditions for military action," was written two days before the July 23, 2002, meeting during which Dearlove told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Bush had made up his mind to go to war and that intelligence was "being fixed" around the policy. Minutes from the July 23 meeting were leaked to British media in early May, with Blair in the final days of a difficult race for re-election, while the July 21 memo, written before the meeting, came to light just last week.

British media also have reported that Blair's advisers warned in 2002 that Blair would have to find a way to make the war look legal under international law. The briefing paper said "that since regime change was illegal it was 'necessary to create the conditions' that would make it legal," the Sunday Times of London reported.

Taken together, the blunt statements revealed in the 2002 memos portray a perilous course with ominous consequences. The ongoing violence in Iraq and the frustrating struggle to rebuild the country and install a viable government makes the poor pre-war planning a continuing concern.


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