Why did the government decide to take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq?

I think the attitude of Downing Street on this was this: it was a fact that there was a thing such as the Iraq Liberation Act. It was a fact that 9/11 had happened and it was a complete waste of time, therefore, in those circumstances, if we were going to be able to work with the Americans, to come to them and say any longer — and bang away about regime change and say, “We can’t support it”.
Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to Washington, at the Inquiry, referring to March 2002.

From early 2002, the government claimed that it was seeking to deal with the issue of Iraq’s continued development and possession of weapons of mass destruction (wmd) but suspicions have arisen that it had other objectives such as maintaining relations with the US or obtaining control over Iraq’s oil supplies. It is of course possible that the decision was taken for a combination of these and other reasons or by different reasons by different people within government.

The March 2002 Cabinet Office options paper suggests that the government sought to use wmd as a pretext for regime change, knowing that regime change would itself have been unlawful.

There is a great deal of evidence that suggests that Tony Blair based his approach to Iraq at least in part on the perceived need to maintain relations the US, which is seen as Britain’s most important ally and is the world’s only superpower. There is less evidence that Iraq’s oil supplies were a significant consideration for the UK.

Was the government primarily concerned about the threat of Iraq’s wmd or did it use wmd as a pretext for other policy drivers?


There is no doubt that UK government policy makers had some concerns over Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (wmd). However, contemporaneous documents suggest that other considerations took higher priority and that ministers and officials used the issue to provide a political and legal justification for war. Read more

To what extent was the government’s policy aimed at maintaining relations and influence with the US?


The question of whether Blair committed the UK to supporting the invasion in order to maintain the UK’s relations and influence with the US has two facets. There is evidence to suggest that he was concerned to maintain both Britain’s long-term relationship with the US and its influence over its approach to Iraq. Read more

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


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, as above, 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. Read more

Was the government’s policy partially or primarily aimed at securing its oil supplies?


Although many people have suggested that the US government was primarily concerned with securing control over Iraq’s oil supplies, the Butler Review found no evidence that this was a consideration for UK policymakers. However, the intention of government policy was not strictly within the Review’s remit and its findings on the subject have been called into question by the Downing Street papers. Some contemporaneous documents show that British government policy makers were aware of the benefits to the UK and UK companies of taking over Iraq’s oil supplies. Read more

One comment to this article

  1. John Towner

    on November 29, 2009 at 10:01 am -

    May we have a clear and unequivocal account of the UK interests ( short, medium and long term ) which it was judged were being served/advanced by this venture?

    The alternative scenarios were presumably judged to be potentially disadvantageous to UK interests; so what were they judged to be ?

    John Towner