To what extent was the government’s policy aimed at securing regime change?

I detest his regime. But even now he can save it by complying with the UN’s demand.
Tony Blair 25 February 2003

The Inquiry will need to consider the extent to which the government’s support for an invasion that would remove Saddam from power was intended to achieve regime change as an end in itself. The government’s public position is that removing Saddam was necessary to remove his wmd and it has also been suggested that the policy was adopted in support of the US desire for regime change. But there is also evidence that the UK government believed that removing Saddam was an objective that was worth pursuing in its own right.

Since the invasion, and in the absence of the weapons of mass destruction that were stated to be its primary justification, the government has tended to justify the war in terms of what it has described as its success in removing Saddam’s regime and establishing a democratic government. Contemporaneous documents provide little evidence that this was seen as a reason to take part in the invasion.

Public statements on human rights and democracy prior to the invasion

In the run-up to the invasion, Tony Blair made a number of statements that suggested that the removal of a regime that had committed horrific human rights abuses would be a positive side-effect of invading Iraq. In spite of this, he told Parliament on 25 February 2003: “I detest his [Saddam’s] regime. But even now he can save it by complying with the UN’s demand.”

What the contemporaneous documents say about regime change

Many of the leaked and published policy papers and internal documents make clear that regime change was an objective of government policy but this is often tied up with support for the US policy and/or the objective of dealing with Iraq’s wmd. There is some evidence that the UK government sought regime change as an end in itself. Discussion of this issue tends to deal more with the problematic nature of Saddam’s regime, rather than the desire for it to be replaced by a more benign or democratic one.

MI6 papers December 2001

In December 2001, Senior SIS (MI6) offical Sir Mark Allen (who gave evidence to the Inquiry as SIS4) wrote a series of papers about Iraq, which have been published in redacted form by the Inquiry.

The second of these papers discusses “how we could combine an objective of regime change in Baghdad with the need to protect important regional interest (sic) which would be at grave risk, if a bombing campaign against Iraq were launched in the short term” and sets out “a possible way ahead”.

This shows that discussion of regime change as an objective preceded discussion of how to take action over Iraq’s WMD, which were not seen in the paper as a significant problem (although they were believed to exist). It appears that the papers as a whole suggested a strategy of seeking regime change (at this time through support for a coup) as a way of dissuading the US from taking military action that might leave Saddam in power.

The Cabinet Office Options paper

The March 2002 options paper states that UK’s objective has been “to re-integrate a law-abiding Iraq which does not possess WMD or threaten its neighbours, into the international community.” It comments: “Implicitly, this cannot occur with Saddam Hussein in power.” This appears to suggest that the main reasons for removing Saddam – before the US expressed a desire for regime change – were geopolitical. The paper says that the downside of settling for the “least worst option” of containing Iraq was that “Saddam’s brutal regime remains in power and destablises the Arab and wider Islamic world.” It is not clear whether the word “brutal” reflects a desire to replace the regime with a more benign one or was merely used for effect.

The paper also discusses two possible types of regime that might replace Saddam but comes out in support of regime change without reaching a conclusion as to which would be preferable. It was thought that “a Sunni military strongman” would be likely to maintain Iraqi territorial integrity and could initially be persuaded to respect human rights, particularly of ethnic minorities but that there could be “a strong risk of the Iraqi system reverting to type.” The other option was “a representative broadly democratic government”, which s “would be Sunni-led but within a federal structure”. It is noted that this is not a commitment a fully democratic government, which, if elected on sectarian lines, would be Shia-led, as is the current Iraqi government.

Subsequent documents suggest that neither ministers nor officials were concerned to ensure that Saddam was replaced by a democratic government but were more concerned that Iraq should be stable and not possess wmd. The July 2002 briefing paper restated the UK’s objective as “a stable and law-abiding Iraq, within present borders, co-operating with the international community, no longer posing a threat to its neighbours or to international security, and abiding by its international obligations on WMD.” Again, there was no mention of democracy as an objective.

Chequers meeting April 2002

According to Alastair Campbell’s published diaries, on 2 April 2002 Blair held a meeting at Chequers to discuss Iraq. “We discussed whether the central aim was WMD or regime change. … TB felt it was regime change in part because of WMD but more broadly because of the threat to he region and the world.”
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