What caused the government to make claims about Iraq’s wmd that turned out to have been untrue?

We have an adversarial political system. A minister who goes to the House and says, “I think, on balance, I have probably got the right policy, but there is a possibility the evidence might not support my case”, that politician is not going to survive very long, and I think this is just innate, it is in the system, and we mustn’t be too precious about ministers’ wish to, as it were, make their case.
Sir David Omand at the Inquiry
I was only going to observe that the sin of overstatement or overcertainty, whatever the political pressures, doesn’t get its absolution by being repeated.
Sir John Chilcot, in response.

The British government’s case for war relied on its claims that it was “established beyond doubt” that Iraq possessed significant stocks of weapons of mass destruction (wmd) and continued to produce and develop them in breach of UN Security Council resolutions. No wmd have been found in Iraq; after extensive investigations, the Iraq Survey Group reported that no weapons or programmes to produce them had existed since shortly after the Gulf conflict of 1991. The fact that Iraq had developed and used chemical weapons before this time is not in doubt.

The government has said that it based its claims on intelligence reports and advice that have since proved to be faulty and it is clear that the intelligence community’s judgements were wrong on many points. But these judgements were heavily qualified. The government’s public statements expressed certainty that turned out to be unjustified.

The government’s main tool for making the case that Iraq had wmd was the September 2002 dossier, which has been closely analysed by previous inquiries, although evidence has since emerged that casts doubt on some of the findings of those inquiries.

Did the UK government set out to make a case for war?

Much of the evidence that suggests that Tony Blair decided in 2002 that the UK would take part in any 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. Read more

Did the UK and US governments collude to overstate intelligence-based claims?

It is clear that British officials told their counterparts in the Bush administration that they would have difficulty persuading UK political and public opinion that military action against Iraq was necessary and that they sought to co-ordinate their claims about Iraq’s weapons with those of the US. The Inquiry will need to consider whether the British government made statements that it did not itself believe, based on private or public claims from the US administration. Read more

How accurate were intelligence reports and assessments?

The Joint Intelligence Committee’s (JIC) key judgements on Iraq’s alleged wmd were wrong on a number of important points. However, these judgements were heavily qualified. Also, as the Butler Review pointed out, JIC assessments produced in parallel to the dossier were prepared on a precautionary basis, in the knowledge that the government intended to attack Iraq and was based on a worst case assumption that Iraq actually possessed wmd. Read more

Did the government’s statements about Iraq’s alleged wmd accurately reflect intelligence reports and assessments?

It is possible to compare statements from Tony Blair and other ministers dating from early 2002 against the advice that they were receiving at the time. It is clear that ministers exaggerated the strength of the intelligence that they were citing. The Inquiry will need to consider whether this was deliberate, taking into account evidence that ministers were seeking to make a case for war. Read more

Why did the September 2002 dossier overstate the case for Iraq’s alleged possession of wmd?

There is no doubt that the dossier that Tony Blair presented to the UK Parliament on 24 September 2002 overstated the case that Iraq possessed and was continuing to develop wmd. A number of claims that Tony Blair asserted in his foreword had been established “beyond doubt” turned out to be untrue. Read more

What was the purpose of the January 2003 dossier and how accurate was it?

In January 2003 the government published a dossier entitled “Iraq – Its Infrastructure Of Concealment, Deception And Intimidation”. This became controversial when it was revealed that a large part of it was plagiarised from an academic article. However, the document also purported to put into the public domain intelligence-based information about the Iraqi regime’s attempts to obstruct UN weapons inspectors. The Inquiry will need to look at the the dossier’s origins, the government’s motivation for publishing it and the reliability of its claims. Read more

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. Since the previous inquiries it has been claimed that the UK and US government received intelligence from two highly placed Iraqi sources that Iraq no longer had wmd. It is not known whether these sources correspond to those mentioned in Butler. Read more

5 comments to this article

  1. michael shaw

    on October 14, 2009 at 3:31 pm -

    What will the Inquiry make of claims made by Georges Sada, former Iraqi general, in his book ‘Saddam’s Secrets’ (Integrity, 2006) that even as late as the latter half of 2002 Saddam did indeed possess considerable quantities of WMDs, but managed to smuggle most of them out of the country (in a series of 56 sorties by Boeing 727s and one 747) under the guise of humanitarian aid for the victims of a burst dam that occurred in north-western Syria on 4 June, 2002? As well as this mass air-lift, he claim other WMDs were regularly transferred by commercial truck and even ambulance into Syria before and immediately after the start of the war. Although doubt has been cast on such claims, Sada is a Christian who seems an unlikely person to have made them up.

  2. Andrew M.

    on October 15, 2009 at 12:23 am -

    Michael –

    I don’t know what the Inquiry will make of these particular claims but the Iraq Survey Group found no evidence to support them. It is possible that Georges Sada was deliberately conned into believing them or else he may have been bribed to make them. A lot of propaganda surrounding this war has been exposed as having been just that, and this claim goes some way to explain the (needed) reason as to why no WMD was found. Personally I don’t believe this claim, Iraq had no real reason not to destroy – either unilaterally or through the UN route – what it had earlier had.

    BTW – I don’t think that there is any reason to link any one individual’s religion with his or her honesty – perhaps others think differently.

  3. michael shaw

    on October 15, 2009 at 8:38 pm -

    According to the book, Sada’s main source of information about alleged WMD flights was a senior official at Iraqi Airways, the commercial airline in Baghdad. Admittedly, Sada himself was not as close to military/political events following retirement from the Iraqi air force in 1991, but he has remained a respected and influential figure, with innumerable contacts, in Iraq ever since. His claims about Iraqi WMDs generally are, he says, supported by Syrian, Jordanian and Israeli intelligence, as well as a report to the UN by UNMOVIC president Demetrius Perricos in June, 2004.

    A strong Christian faith does not, of course, guarantee Sada’s honesty or soundness of judgment (any more than that of George W Bush and Tony Blair!), but neither – arguably – should it be totally discounted.

  4. michael shaw

    on October 15, 2009 at 10:18 pm -

    Lest anyone think I supported the war, I should add that, for me (unlike Tony Blair -apparently?!), the presence/absence of WMD in Iraq was never central to the legal case for or against. A high degree of premeditation and political and military planning – contradicting any notion of self-defence under Article 51 – coupled with the lack of a second SC resolution, is surely what is critical here. The human cost of war militates against attempts to justify what happened in humanitarian terms. And regime-change, as we all know, is a non-starter.

  5. John Towner

    on December 1, 2009 at 4:36 pm -

    Mr Blair cannot have known of the existence of deployable WMD in Iraq at the time in question because according to subsequent investigation no such WMD existed. Thus Parliament and public were presented with an illusion in this matter.

    Can we have a detailed and authoritative step by step account of the dynamics of this illusion to cover the what, why, when, how and who precisely was involved ?

    Suggested time frame say from :

    June 2002 when Carne Ross ( as reported on this site ) finished his UN posting during which as he later reported ( having been closely professionally involved with the matter)…’with the exception of some unaccounted for Scud missiles there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings (in Iraq )of CW,BW or nuclear material’ and the Iraq airforce was ineffective while the army was heavily depleted.


    Mr Blair’s statement to Parliament on the day of publication of the dossier that ..’the intelligence picture they ( intell. reports ) paint (of WMD)is one accumulated over the past 4 years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative’.

    thence to : Mr Blair’s argument to the Commons in March 2003 in which he advocated the invasion mainly on the basis of an assertion that Iraq had WMD plus the 45 minute claim.