“Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein.” Cabinet Office briefing paper 21 July 2002
Much of the evidence that suggests that Tony Blair decided in 2002 that the UK would take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq also shows that ministers and officials were aware of the need to develop an “information” or propaganda campaign to persuade public opinion that this was necessary.
In most cases, the references to public opinion relate to military action rather than action to secure Iraqi disarmament. They also seek to present war as an outcome that “will” be necessary, rather than one that might be necessary if other efforts fail.
March 2002 Cabinet Office options paper
A briefing paper prepared by the Cabinet Office on 8 March 2002 included as one of the steps necessary to launch a ground invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power – “sensitising the public: a media campaign to warn of the dangers that Saddam poses and to prepare public opinion both in the UK and abroad.”
The Ricketts letter
On 22 March 2002 Peter Ricketts, political director of the Foreign Office sent a letter to foreign secretary Jack Straw. He told Straw: “To get public and Parliamentary support for military operations, we have to be convincing that: – the threat is so serious/imminent that it is worth sending our troops to die for.”
The Powell minute
On 19 July 2002 Blair’s chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell wrote him a minute in which he set out “a road map for getting rid of Saddam”. This included the comment:
We need to make the case. We need a plan and a timetable for releasing the papers we have prepared on human rights abuses, WMD etc. We need to have the sort of Rolls Royce information campaign we had at the end of Afghanistan before we start in Iraq.
The July 2002 briefing paper
A briefing paper for a meeting at Downing Street in July 2002 noted that
When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion….
The paper also commented that
Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein. There would also need to be a substantial effort to secure the support of Parliament.
The September 2002 Foreign Office media strategy
In September 2002 the Foreign Office press secretary produced a media strategy for Iraq at the request of Sir Michael (now Lord) Jay, the FCO’s top civil servant. The strategy covers both a scenario described as “taking the UN route” and one described as “not taking the UN route”, providing further evidence that the government was seeking to make a case for war, whether or not this was preceded by an ultimatum from the UN Security Council.
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