“By this stage, Tony Blair had already taken the decision to support regime change, though he was discreet about saying so in public.”
The Inquiry will need to consider when the policy of taking part in the invasion of Iraq began to be implemented. There is significant evidence that some parts of government began to act from early 2002 as if this was already government policy. This included propaganda efforts to persuade public opinion of the need for military action and a bombing campaign to prepare for war. This would re-enforce claims that Tony Blair had committed Britain to war at a time when he was saying that no decision had been taken. But this issue is complicated by the possibility that any decision was conditional and that the government’s actions represented sensible contingency planning. Did Tony Blair make a conditional commitment to join the US-led invasion?
The Inquiry will also need to consider whether any delay in implementing the policy hampered its success.
Making a case for war
Many contemporaneous documents suggest that the “information” produced by the government in the run-up to the war were specifically intended to prepare the ground for an invasion of Iraq on the pretext of dealing with its alleged weapons of mass destruction. Read more
When did military planning for war begin?
Witnesses to the Inquiry have given conflicting evidence as to the date on which military planners began to prepare for war – or possible war – in Iraq. A leaked document states that “formation-level planning for a deployment took place from February 2002”.
According to Alastair Campbell’s published diaries, a meeting took place at Chequers on 2 April 2002, attended by senior military figures. In October 2010 it emerged that later that month defence secretary Geoff Hoon discussed Iraq with US general Tommy Franks, who would later lead the invasion. Hoon did not mention this meeting at the Inquiry.
During the summer of 2002 senior political and military figures discussed the size of Britain’s contribution to the invasion force. Hoon told the Inquiry that this issue was not resolved until late October 2002. He said that this was because Blair and foreign secretary Jack Straw “didn’t want the military preparation to affect their diplomatic efforts” but that this delay limited the military’s time to prepare for the war. It has been suggested that this delay was also in part responsible for the failure to make adequate plans for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.
Actions to destabilise the Iraqi regime and prepare the battlefield
There is evidence that the US and UK carried out secret bombing missions and other covert activity before the war to destabilise the Iraqi regime. The Downing Street memo also records that Geoff Hoon, defence secretary, “said that the US had already begun ’spikes of activity’ to put pressure on the regime.” This is apparently a reference to bombing and other covert activity aimed at destabilising Iraq and/or provoking it into a reaction that would provide a pretext for war.
In 2003, in a memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sir John Walker said that in his opinion there had been a noticeable change in the pattern of targeting in relation to the No Fly Zone. This suggested a plan to “prepare the battlefield”. He told the committee that if his thesis was correct “the nation was committed to war in the late-summer, early-Autumn of 2002 Thereafter, the whole process of reason, other reason, yet other reason, humanitarian, – morality, regime change, terrorrism, finally, imminent WMD attack and topped by the UNSC Resolution farce, was merely covering fire.” Read more
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