Did the government bias its assessment of Iraq’s wmd stocks and ignore intelligence reports that it had none?

The Butler report revealed that during the period from summer 2002 and the commencement of military action in 2003 it received reports from two sources that were “less worrying” about Iraq’s wmd capabilities. We also know that intelligence analysts on the Defence Intelligence Staff were not convinced that Iraq had significant stocks of chemical or biological weapons. It has been claimed that the UK and US government received intelligence from two highly placed Iraqi sources that Iraq no longer had wmd.

Reports that Iraq did not have wmd turned out to be correct. The government may have considered at the time that because these sources were part of the Iraqi regime, their information was not reliable but the Inquiry will need to consider what assessment was made of it and whether the information was made available to policy makers, including ministers.

Doubts about Iraqi wmd

 

Since the war, it has emerged that that intelligence analysts on the Defence Intelligence Staff were not convinced that Iraq had significant stocks of chemical or biological weapons.

Reports that Iraq did not have wmd

 

Naji Sabri

Naji Sabri was Iraq’s foreign minister. It has been claimed that in September 2002 he provided information to the CIA via an intermediary stating that Iraq no longer had wmd programmes.

It has been alleged that the CIA rewrote the report of Sabri’s information so that it appeared that it confirmed Iraq’s possession or development of wmd. It has also been alleged that a doctored version of this report was passed to the UK.

The Inquiry will need to establish what the UK was told about this and whether it was misled.
 

Tahir Jalil Habbush

Tahir Jalil Habbush was the head of Iraqi intelligence. It has been alleged that in early 2003 he provided information directly to MI6 that Iraq did not have wmd. It is claimed that this information was passed on to the US administration, which ignored it.

Although ministers and officials would have been highly cautious about this information, it did come at a time when UN weapons inspectors were failing to find evidence that Iraq had wmd. The Butler Review expressed surprise that no the JIC did not reassess its intelligence in the light of the “generally negative” results of UN inspections. It has also been alleged that Richard Dearlove, the then head of MI6, flew to the US to brief the CIA on the report but that the US administration “buried” the report and “instructed the British that they were no longer interested in keeping the channel open.”

The Inquiry will need to consider and explain what use was made of the intelligence from Habbush.

Were previous inquiries told about these sources?

 
None of the previous inquiries give any indication that high-level Iraqi sources provided information that Iraq did not have wmd. It appears that the Butler Review was not told about these sources, although it may have been told what they said. It states that MI6 had five main sources, four of which provided information during August and September 2002. It states that “SIS’s post-war validation has led them to conclude that two further main sources should continue to be regarded as reliable. We have, however, noted that reports from those sources tended to present a less worrying view of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons capability than that from the sources whose reporting is now subject to doubt.”

It appears that one of these reliable but less worrying sources may have been Habbush.
 
Back to What caused the government to make claims about Iraq’s wmd that turned out to have been untrue?
 

One comment to this article

  1. Richard Heller

    on October 16, 2009 at 8:02 pm -

    Apart from any specific intelligence from Habbush or Sabri, or other highly-placed Iraqis, there were good general reasons to believe that Iraq had no WMD before the war:

    1) Iraq made very little progress towards WMD even when it was a quasi-ally of the West, during its war against Iran. (It managed, in military terms, a crude use of chemical weapons against Iran and Kurdish rebels). Iraq was extremely unlikely to have made greater progress after defeat in the Kuwait war, in the teeth of sanctions and after nearly all of its existing stocks of chemical weapons were known to have been destroyed by the UN);

    2) Iraq under Saddam was a ramshackle state, in which basic services hardly functioned. It defies belief that such a state could secretly maintain a highly sophisticated scientific weapons-making apparatus;

    3) In September 2002 (the very month that the infamous Blair dossier was published) US and British aircraft attacked targets all over Iraq with no defiance from Saddam. Not the attitude of a man who was in control of WMD or expected to have them within a short time.

    Did anyone point these things out? The inquiry should tell us.