More from: Iraq Planning

Still no wiser about knowing the unknowns

by Andrew Mason

Most regular readers here will be aware of the recent wider US and international release of documentary maker Errol Morris’ film “The Unknown Known”. This production, filmed in 2013 partly by means of the director’s own ‘Interrotron’ projection technique, is largely an extended interview with former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The movie was constructed around 30+ hours of conversation, conducted over the course of 11 days.

This work has already met with fairly critical reviews mostly due to Rumsfeld’s seemingly simplistic, or perhaps somewhat slippery, evasiveness. Rupert Cornwell, writing today for Independent Voices, continues this analysis, variously describing the film as “fascinating stuff” whilst also calling it “unsatisfying and ultimately disappointing”. He continues his appraisal by writing that: “The end product is an old emptiness”.

The following is an insightful interview with the director, conducted by Homi Bhahba of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, following an early November 2013 US screening:

Continuing UK screening of the film are listed on documentary distributor Dogwoof’s website at the following link:

A short trailer for the production is also available at the same link.

Blair – I would preferred to have gone…

by Andrew Mason

The BBC will be screening the first episode of their new documentary series ‘The Iraq War’ at 21:00BST tonight (Wednesday 29 May 2013).

From their preview page:

Former British prime minister Tony Blair has told a BBC programme about the Iraq war that he would rather have quit as prime minister than let down the Americans.

The documentary contains interviews with Mr Blair, former US Vice President Dick Cheney, senior CIA officers and former Iraqi generals and intelligence chiefs.

War planning wholly irresponsible, say senior military figures

by Chris Ames

The Guardian again steps into the vacuum left be the absence of a report from the Inquiry as the 10th anniversary approaches. As part of the paper’s Iraq war: 10 years on strand, my collegue Richard Norton-Taylor reports that:

The way Britain was led into war with Iraq 10 years ago was “wholly irresponsible” and the lack of intelligence on the country a national disgrace, senior military figures have told the Guardian.

Though they direct their fire principally at the Bush administration, they make clear the Blair government must share a lot of the blame.


Major new questions for Blair

by Chris Ames

The Sunday Telegraph has put together three different angles for its lead story today Iraq War: major new questions for Tony Blair. But how much of this is new? A lot of it seems like familiar ground to those people who have followed what the Inquiry has thrown up and what has been reported elsewhere.

The three elements of the story are criticism of Blair from former Washington ambassador Christopher Meyer; statements from former members of the Bush administration saying that Blair did not lay down conditions for British participation in the invasion; and criticism of Blair from “military chiefs” for a lack or preparation for the aftermath.

The main point that Meyer makes in an article for the paper headed ‘I’m with you whatever’, Tony Blair told George Bush is that

He has always argued that, by keeping close to Mr Bush, he was able to influence him. But for Mr Blair the “special relationship” became an end in itself, leading him to tell Mr Bush that, whatever he decided, he would have Mr Blair’s support. This was tantamount to sub-contracting to Mr Bush the decision to invade Iraq.


The failure to plan meticulously for Saddam’s aftermath led to almost a decade of violent chaos and the ultimate humiliation of British forces. Mr Blair’s unquestioning support for Mr Bush eliminated what should have been salutary British influence over American decision-making.

This is something that Meyer and others have said before, including the claim that Blair gave an unconditional promise that Britain would take part in any US-led invasion. In fact, Meyer is expressly cited as a source for the report that Blair told Bush in July 2002, “Whatever you decide to do, I’m with you.” In his article, Meyer also confirms that he does not know to what extent Blair made a commitment at Crawford in April 2002, which is what he told the Iraq Inquiry.

On the theme of whether Blair gave conditional or unconditional support, the main article, by the paper’s US editor Philip Sherwell, says that

… senior Bush White House staff confirmed for the first time to The Sunday Telegraph that they had viewed it as a certainty that Mr Blair would back any US-led invasion, long before he publicly committed Britain to taking part.

They say he made clear his unwavering support for US policy nearly a year before the invasion, after a visit to the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.

This appears to contradict Downing Street’s assertion at the time that Britain would intervene militarily against the Iraqi dictator only if all other avenues, including weapons inspections and United Nations sanctions, had been exhausted.

This does indeed contradict that assertion, but so does Meyer’s account and Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff has said this before, also to Rawnsley. Sherwell also says:

The statement by former White House officials that Mr Blair laid down no conditions for British support for the US-led operation comes despite Downing Street assertions to the contrary.

But this forgets that Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell told the Inquiry:

I think, thinking of  them in terms of conditions is the wrong way to look at it. We weren’t trying to say, “If you tick off all these boxes, then we will be with you”. We were saying, “We are with you, in terms of what you are trying to do, but this is the sensible way to do it. We are offering you a partnership to try and get to a wide coalition”.

But being with the Americans didn’t necessarily mean going to war. The Prime Minister said repeatedly to President Bush that if Saddam complied with the UN Resolutions, then there would not be any invasion and President Bush agreed with him on that.

Powell is right here that discussion of conditions misses the point. But his claim that “being with the Americans didn’t necessarily mean war” is an attempt to mislead the Inquiry and susceptible to Meyer’s criticism that Blair sub-contracted the decision to Bush. Blair did not tell Bush that if Saddam complied with UN resolutions there would not be any invasion. It wasn’t his call. That’s the point.

The other element of the Telegraph package is a series of articles in which military chiefs and some less senior former servicemen recount their experience, with some of the same themes coming up: lack of preparedness and shortage of funding. They include General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff during the war, and Major General Graham Binns. Both gave evidence to the Inquiry.





Forthcoming event – the dossier 10 years on

by Andrew Mason

The University of Westminster (in conjunction with the Media Society and Biteback Publishing) will be hosting a debate about the continuing and serious fallout that the publication of the notorious September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the following ‘dodgy’ February 2003 paper on Iraq’s infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation have demonstrably provoked.

The debate is to take place on the tenth anniversary of the publication of the WMD dossier.

News and events » Events » Media, Arts and Design » Media, Arts and Design events archive » 2012 » Ten years on – The Iraq Dossiers: Who was damaged most by Hutton

Ten years on – The Iraq Dossiers: Who was damaged most by Hutton

Date: 24 September 2012

Time: 6.30pm – .

Location: University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW

Kevin Marsh who was at the helm of Radio Four’s Today programme when it broadcasted the controversial Andrew Gilligan report has broken his omerta. His book ‘Stumbling Over Truth: The inside story of the sexed-up dossier, Hutton and the BBC’ will be the subject of a debate which will be chaired by Steve Hewlett.

Chair: Steve Hewlett, presenter ‘The Media Show’ BBC Radio Four


Kevin Marsh, former editor ‘Today’, ’The World at One’ and ‘PM’ BBC Radio Four
Peter Oborne, The Daily Telegraph, author ‘The Rise of Political Lying’
Lance Price, former spin doctor to Tony Blair
Professor Steven Barnett, Westminster University, author ‘The Rise and Fall of Television Journalism’
Professor Jean Seaton, Westminster University, official historian The BBC

This special Media Society, University of Westminster and Biteback debate will explore the long term effects of Hutton on the BBC on the 10th anniversary of the ‘dodgy dossier’. Was this the start of political lying as a way of life?

Admission: This event is free but you must register. Please contact Sam at

(The Digest notes here that there still seems to remain a degree of confusion about which of the two dossiers was actually and initially referred to as being ‘dodgy’. The term arose in the online pages of Spiked magazine following Glen Rangwala’s discovery that some of the work in the ‘Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation’ dossier had been plagiarised from a number of unattributed sources and then edited to imply stronger conclusions.)

CIA ‘mea culpa’ published

by Andrew Mason

Washington, DC, September 5, 2012 – The online magazine today published an extraordinary CIA document on the recent Iraq war which the National Security Archive obtained through a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) request to the CIA.

The document, “Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspection Created Picture of Deception,” dated January 5, 2006, blames “analyst liabilities,” such as neglecting to examine Iraq’s deceptive behavior “through an Iraqi prism,” for the failure to correctly assess the country’s virtually non-existent WMD capabilities. The review was one in a series of reevaluations the agency produced of its own work after Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Archive obtained the analysis by filing a MDR request after noticing a footnote to it in a September 2006 report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. MDRs are similar to Freedom of Information Act requests but are more effective in cases where a specific record can be identified, such as by title and date. It took the CIA almost six years to release the report.

The document:

CIA, Directorate of Intelligence, “Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspections Created Picture of Deception”, Secret, January 5, 2006.

See also:

Classified CIA Mea Culpa on Iraq – By Tom Blanton, Foreign Policy, September 5, 2012

Iraq: How the CIA Says It Blew It on Saddam’s WMD – By Mark Thompson, Time, September 6, 2012

Inside the CIA Dossier on Iraq – By Vijay Prashad, Counterpunch, September 6, 2012

New moves towards Australian Iraq inquiry

by Andrew Mason

A group of leading Australians have now started a campaign to gain a full inquiry into their country’s participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Their reasoning for this move has been set out in a newly published booklet – Why Did We Go to War in Iraq? A call for an Australian inquiry, and the group has commissioned a comprehensive website to make their case and launch a wider appeal aimed at gaining support for their movement, the Iraq War Inquiry Group.

The membership of the group, according to their ‘who we are’ page, currently includes:

•Paul Barratt, former Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; former Secretary, Department of Defence
•Rod Barton, former Director of Intelligence (Science and Technology), Defence Intelligence Organisation; former UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq.
•Dr Alison Broinowski, former diplomat; Visiting Fellow, Department of Asian Studies, ANU; Honorary Research Fellow, University of Wollongong
•Adjunct Professor Richard Broinowski, Media and Communications, University of Sydney; former diplomat.
•Michelle Fahy, editor and writer
•Andrew Farran, International Lawyer; Business Consultant. Formerly with Departments of External Affairs and Defence, and Law Faculty Monash University
•General (ret’d) Peter Gration, former Chief of the Australian Defence Force
•Dr Jenny Grounds, President, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)
•Professor John Langmore, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne; former MP for Fraser; former director of UN Division of Social Policy and Development, and representative of the ILO to the UN
•Edward Santow, CEO, Public Interest Advocacy Centre
•Lt Gen (ret’d) John Sanderson, former Chief of the Australian Army, and former Governor of WA.
•Professor Gerry Simpson, Professor of International Law, University of Melbourne
•Professor Richard Tanter, School of Social and Political Studies, University of Melbourne; Senior Research Associate, Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability
•Professor Ramesh Thakur, Professor of International Relations, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Adjunct Professor, Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, Griffith University; former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General
•Dr Sue Wareham, Vice-President, Medical Association for Prevention of War
•Garry Woodard, former ambassador; Senior Fellow, Dept of Politics, University of Melbourne
•Tim Wright, Australian director, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Countdown to Iraq

by Andrew Mason

Alastair Campbell is scheduled to release Volume Four of his diaries on 20 June. This further edition, entitled ‘The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq’, is the final planned part of his series, although this new volume apparently indicates that he continued to keep a diary beyond 2003, the entries from which may be published at some point in the future.

The earlier volumes were ‘Prelude to Power: 1994-1997’; ‘Power and the People: May 1997 to June 1999’; and ‘Power and Responsibility: 1999 to (September 11) 2001’.

The official launch will be hosting by the Mile End Group at the Queen Mary University of London.

The publication of this part of the diaries was originally expected to have taken place at the end of last year. Whether or not the delays currently being experienced by the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry have also affected the timing of the release of this volume remains to be seen.

My pick for the end of the (war) year

by Andrew Mason

Never Forget the Iraq War

Paul R. Pillar was the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005. In early 2006 he became publicly critical of the Bush Administration’s political use of intelligence material to evidently justify the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He wrote that:

“In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community’s own work was politicized. … The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made. It went to war without requesting — and evidently without being influenced by — any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq.”

He now writes regularly at The National Interest. On 15 December he published the following essay, plainly timed to coincide with the formal ending (at least as far as the US is concerned) of the war in Iraq.

Blair and regime change

by Brian Jones

From declassified documents released in May, it has become clear that, in early 2002, Tony Blair’s overriding wish was to use Iraq as the next step in the application of the political philosophy of “liberal intervention” to which he had become wedded in his first term of office. This was made plain in a minute from Blair to Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, and Sir David Manning, his foreign policy adviser, in March 2002, shortly before Blair’s visit to Crawford. The Crawford summit, for which Blair appears to have been thoroughly and accurately briefed, is thought by many to have been the meeting at which Blair pledged his determination to provide British military support for an invasion of Iraq.

In the minute to his closest confidants, the prime minister does not cite any need to tackle the “threat” of Saddam’s putative WMD stockpiles or to support US action for wider political or security reasons. The former is not surprising because he had been repeatedly advised that intelligence on Iraq’s WMD would not justify the military action he seemed to anticipate. He also appears to acknowledge that Iraq “hasn’t any direct bearing on [UK] national interest”.

In a speech in Chicago in April 1999, at a time when he believed he needed to persuade a reluctant President Clinton to take more direct military action in the Balkans, Blair had argued for a “political philosophy that does care about other nations”. It advocated that, in a post cold war environment free of threats to national security, the west could afford to do this. For example, where appropriate they could pursue military action to achieve regime change in order to free oppressed people from unscrupulous dictators, eliminate regional dangers and restore stability.

Even in his March 2002 minute to his closest aides Blair feels the need to rehearse the case for “liberal intervention” in Iraq by reference to his successes in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone and appears to suggest it was right to be “gung-ho on Saddam”. By defining things in this way he tacitly acknowledges that he did not consider as particularly serious, any current or possible future threat from Iraq and its WMD, or the consequence of an increased threat from terrorists such as al Qaida that might arise in the future or directly as a consequence of any such action. Indeed he said his greatest fear was about oil prices because: “Higher petrol prices really might put the public off.”

None of this should surprise us since Blair has latterly made no secret of the fact that he was always much more than a compliant supporter of George Bush in pursuit of the policy on Iraq. It puts a little more flesh on the bones of the implication inherent in his admission to Fern Britton in 2009 that if he had known before the Iraq war that Saddam had no WMD he would have found another way to persuade people the invasion was appropriate.

All this is very strong, if not conclusive, evidence that the WMD “threat” was deliberately exaggerated as immediate (or current) to boost public, political and international support for military action because neither humanitarian considerations nor a potential future WMD threat from Iraq or terrorists would have been enough.

Blair’s belief that Britain should rush to the rescue of the abused and downtrodden whenever the opportunity arose would certainly not have cut much ice with the public at large or even the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). This is clearly illustrated by the briefing paper that had been written for the PLP on 5 March which Jack Straw suggested would be “useful background” for Ministers attending Cabinet on 7 March. On 6 March 2002, at the Foreign Secretary’s request, his private secretary, Mark Sedwill sent a copy of “Iraq briefing for the Parliamentary Labour Party” dated 5 March 2002 to Matthew Rycroft in the Prime Minister’s Office. The putative threat from Iraq’s WMD and its repeated violation of its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions dominated the piece. A short discussion of Human Rights violations was relegated to the lower orders of the paper, did not feature in the list of its “Key Points” and did not mention the policy of liberal intervention. That Blair fed this promotional pamphlet to Cabinet rather than the more balanced and revealing advice contained in the official Iraq Options paper illustrates that he thought many of his senior colleagues would be critical of his real motives, and that he was careless of important constitutional procedures.

A minute from Powell to Blair, also copied to Manning, in the summer shortly before the Prime Minister’s secret Downing Street meeting on Iraq suggested a phone call and “one of your notes” to “GWB” [President Bush] after the meeting, “… before he gets his military plan on 4 August”. Powell advised that the PM stress to the President the need for “a road map to getting rid of Saddam” and listed a number of elements it should contain. They included the establishment of a legal base that “needs to be based on WMD rather than terrorism or regime change” and the need to “make the case” involving “a plan and timetable for releasing the papers we [the UK] have produced on human rights abuses, WMD etc” and the need to “have the sort of Rolls Royce information campaign we had at the end of the Afghanistan before we start Iraq”. The “papers” referred to are probably early drafts of what would become the September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s WMD. The prime minister added a handwritten note saying he entirely agreed with what Powell had written.

Blair wrote to Bush after his secret meeting on 23 July but not before Manning and Powell cautioned him about a draft of what he intended to send. According to Manning’s secret evidence, the opening sentence appears to have directly promised support for regime change. The reservations of the advisers were ignored and the declassification of this note has become a matter of open dispute between the Inquiry, the Cabinet Secretary and Mr Blair (See the exchange of correspondence between Chilcot and Sir Gus O’Donnell dated 10 and 22 December 2010 and 6 and 11 January 2011). Even if O’Donnell’s ban cannot be overcome, the Inquiry may choose to make it clear that Blair made a commitment in writing to support regime change in late July 2002.

It is evident that No 10 was less than completely frank about its motives before the Iraq war, and has since been less than completely frank about them. Whether or not those responsible for the intelligence that reached the Prime Minister were told WMD was the excuse rather than the main driver for future action is not clear, but this much would have been suspected by those who could compare the pre-September political rhetoric with the reality of standing JIC assessments. In May 2002 the responsible Assessment Staff deputy told me No 10 would not like the fact that the WMD intelligence on Iraq was not hardening up. An interesting recent observation has come from beyond the Iraq Inquiry and Freedom of Information disclosures. It appears in the recent book “Securing the State” by Sir David Omand, the man who was effectively the most senior intelligence official in 2002/3. Commenting on Blair’s admission to Fern Britton mentioned above, he seems to suggest he believed Britain would go to war even without the justifying argument of the existence of significant WMD. Such a belief may have made senior officials less careful than they might otherwise have been about the intelligence assessments that went forward, or less inclined to try to rein back the tone of Blair’s Foreword to the dossier. But this is no excuse for the JIC, or at least some of its most influential members, deliberately short-circuiting a key element of the intelligence process, and deceiving the rest of the intelligence community.