Oops, as I was saying

by Chris Ames

This page on the Hutton Inquiry website provides a great deal of detail on the redrafting of the September 2002 Iraq dossier, including the dates and times that drafts of Tony Blair’s foreword were circulated.

At 10.01 on 17 September 2002, Alastair Campbell, who wrote the foreword, circulated this first draft.

“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; that he does not want the UN inspectors in precisely because he has a great deal to hide.”

But Saddam had already agreed to the return of UN inspectors. For example, at 02.39 that morning, the Guardian had reported that:

“Saddam Hussein last night caved in and agreed to the unconditional return of weapons inspectors to Iraq.”

At 17.19 Campbell circulated a new draft:

“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.”

Blair’s (Campbell’s) conviction that Saddam “does not want the UN inspectors in precisely because he has a great deal to hide” had evaporated. At the same time Campbell sent (nominal) dossier author John Scarlett a note in which he said:

“In light of the last 24 hours, I think we should make more of the point about current concealment plans.”

In the space of a few hours, the UK government had gone from claiming that Saddam would not let inspectors in because he had something to hide to claiming that he would let the inspectors in and hide it anyway. It wasn’t as if they didn’t see it coming: the leaked March 2002 Cabinet Office options paper, which the Inquiry has failed to publish, based plans for “regime change” on an expectation that:

“A refusal to admit (U)N inspectors, or their admission and subsequent likely frustration, which resulted in an appropriate finding by the Security Council could provide the justification for military action.”

What a shame neither the Security Council nor the inspectors could be persuaded that the inspectors were being frustrated. But then the options paper, which describe the intelligence on Iraq’s wmd as “poor” seems not to have considered the possibility that Iraq might not have any wmd to hide.

6 comments to this article

  1. Chris Ames

    on January 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm -

    by way of a (late) footnote, both versions of the foreword say:

    “The case I make is that the UN resolutions demanding he stops his WMD programme are being flouted ; that since the inspectors left four years ago, he has continued with this programme ; that the inspectors must be allowed back in to do
    their job properly ; and that if he refuses, or if he makes it impossible for them to do their job, as he has done in the past, the international community will have to act.”

    This shows that the possibility that Saddam would allow inspectors in was considered, in spite of the “no doubt” that he does not want them in, but that the fact that he had agreed to their return had still not filtered through even in the later draft.

  2. John Rentoul

    on January 14, 2011 at 10:21 pm -

    Dear Chris
    I don’t know if you were around at the time(s), but in October 1997, November 1998 and September 2002 why did you think (a) Saddam did not want the inspectors in; and (b) he let them in?

  3. Chris Ames

    on January 15, 2011 at 9:23 am -

    John, I don’t really know much about 1997 and 1998 but by 2002:
    a) he probably didn’t want the inspectors in because he didn’t want to be exposed as weak – diplomatically and militarily
    b) he let them in because the diplomatic and military consequences of not doing so outweighed a)

    By September 2002 it was a no-brainer. Blair and Bush clearly wanted him to refuse, which was option A on the war plan, as illustrated by the comment in the July 2002 Cabinet Office briefing paper, which the Inquiry and government have colluded to avoid discussion of, even though it has been leaked:

    “It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community.”

    Of course, as it turned out, he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t – as the war plan envisaged: no amount of co-operation would forestall Bush and Blair, who insisted that Saddam must be hiding something because the inspectors hadn’t found it!

  4. Bobm

    on January 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm -

    Today’s Guardian, previewing Alistair Campbell’s latest [earlier] diaries, carries this little gem from the Campbell-Blair mutual admiration society.

    “Sunday 25 April Third Way seminar

    [German chancellor Gerhard] Schröder asked me how my disinformation campaign was going. I said it would go a lot better if we had a few more Germans in it. TB took Bill into a private room, just the two of them, where he pressed him again on ground troops, saying we really needed a proper fix on where we were heading, that it could only be done if the US were clear they would be there when the time came. He said afterwards Bill was much more amenable.

    He also said I should basically run the whole media operation.”

    Disinformation campaign, run by Campbell…enough said?

  5. John Bone

    on January 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm -

    Mr Rentoul, what point are yo trying to make with your question?