Manning, MI6, Straw and regime change

by Chris Ames

The section of Sir David Manning’s secret session that deals with MI6 plans for regime change in late 2001 is very revealing, not least for what we learn of foreign secretary Jack Straw’s views.

On 30 November 2001 Manning and an MI6 (SIS) officer, whose name has been redacted, “discussed how we could combine an objective of regime change in Baghdad with the need to protect important regional interests which would be at grave risk.”

The MI6 man sent Manning the paper the same day. According to Sir Roderick Lyne, this says: “”If the US heads for direct action, have we ideas which could to divert them to an alternative course?”

But three days later, possibly prompted by a request from Manning, MI6 resent him the first paper (in shortened form) and two other papers, one of which “points in exactly the opposite direction”, according to Lyne, “it sets out a route map for regime change very openly”.

Manning pointed out at this point that “until the spring of 2002, when one talks about regime change, certainly the idea is how can you foment regime change within the country.” But the means of achieving regime change are not the point. The point is that regime change is identified as a possible objective. In any case, Lyne points out that “The key add on in these papers is the emphasis that it would have to be supplemented from outside by air support”, ie Western military action.

Note here that one of the routes to regime change identified by the March 2002 Options paper is “AN AIR CAMPAIGN PROVIDING OVERT SUPPORT TO OPPOSITION GROUPS LEADING TO A COUP OR UPRISING”.

As Lyne points out, the response of Jack Straw to all this is very curious for someone who claims to have been opposed to the idea:

… the Foreign Secretary sent a letter saying he thought these papers were very perceptive and he hoped the Prime Minister would read them, or his private secretary sent them.
So no reservations expressed at that stage by the Foreign Office, either in terms of SIS leading on a bit of action that was heavily political, going direct to Number 10 on it, rather than through the traditional orthodox route via the Foreign Secretary; nor reservations about ********************** ****************************************** regime change,

So what he sent was a short letter, having seen the [SIS4] papers ***** ********************************– these were briefing papers — saying these are good papers, perceptive, and he hopes the Prime Minister will read them. So no reservations expressed there. He has looked at them. He has sent an approving comment on them. But it’s otherwise a rather curious vacuum. There is the Foreign Secretary who is arguing already, and continues to argue, for caution on this subject.

Yet here are papers saying let’s co-operate with the Americans on regime change, and he says these are good papers, the Prime Minister should read them.