by Chris Lamb
Toby Dodge’s arguments that Iraq had been effectively disarmed by 1998 and that the UN sanctions regime imposed in the 1990s paradoxically achieved the opposite of its intentions by refocusing and strengthening Saddam’s power base and weakening opposition constituencies reinforces, in my opinion, the view that regime change by military methods was the real purpose of the 2003 invasion.
The content of key Cabinet meeting deliberations on 13 and 17 March 2003 may give further insight to this. The government has blocked my request for the notes of these meetings to be published. But interesting questions are raised from the Parliamentary debate of 18 March, voting for military invasion on the imposition of New Labour and Conservative party three line whips.
Given that the two Government motions involved made allegations about the imminent threat of Iraqi WMD and breaches under UN Resolution 1441, it is very curious that no space was made available in the debate for the latest UNMOVIC report presented by Hans Blix on 7 March 2003 reporting significant progress in the disarmament of remaining Iraqi weaponry.
Blix reported Iraqi co-operation and movement on a number of weaponry fronts. His report contained the memorable quotation, “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament, indeed the first since the middle of the 1990s. We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed”.
Blix ventures that, although Iraqi co-operation in complete disarmament was not immediate, such could be expected in a matter of only months. Defiance remaining from Saddam was built on bluff and not threat.
Once the emptiness of his arms cache became known domestically, there would arguably have been a time limit on his power base without outside intervention.
This vital report was available to Parliament but not presented as evidence nor properly debated. Was this because the two main party leaderships had already struck their position of support for Blair and the Government’s resolution and blotted out with the three line whip any inconvenient countervailing evidence?
Anyone now reading the hyperbole and rhetoric of Blair’s introductory speech in support of the 18 March war motion and the responses by Duncan Smith and Hague would appreciate that regime change was the elephant in the room while alleged WMD breaches of the UN were secondary unsubstantiated pretexts.
An argument could even be made that timing of the military invasion was driven by the narrowing of the window of opportunity for regime change by the findings of Blix’s report that Iraqi disarmament would be decisive and demonstrable within months. If that occurred, the grounds for an invasion would be entirely removed.
One of the lessons the Inquiry may draw from its investigation – if it looks at how the Parliamentary vote for war was constructed on 18 March 2003 – is the malign effects of party control and the process of party whipping over the full presentation of relevant evidence and the scope and freedom of deliberation and decision making.