Live Blog – 24 November 2009

Wednesday 24 November 2009

(There were two evidence sessions today, scheduled for 10:00 – 13:00 and 14:00 – 17:00.)

Topic: UK policy towards Iraq in 2001

Simon Webb, Policy Director, Ministry of Defence, 2001- 2004

Sir Peter Ricketts, Political Director, Foreign Office, 2002/3

William Patey, Head of Middle East Department, Foreign Office, 1999-2002

Sir Michael Wood, Legal Adviser, Foreign Office, 1999-2006

This afternoon’s hearing, as it happened

15.40 Sir John Chilcot – Thanks to all. Tomorrow is about the broader aspects of WMD.

15.25 Wrapping up questions. Sir Roderick – where were we in policy options? Patey – Saddam was constrained in his ambitions. Policy was to tighten certain aspects but to loosen the rest. Webb – sanctions were limiting Saddam’s military potential. Sir Roderick – was Saddam being kept in a cage? Yes.

15.25 Patey states that it was difficult to separate facts from propaganda. There were no reliable reports about infant mortality etc. He says no-one had expected the sanctions regime to go on for so long.

15.15 William Patey discusses the manipulation of the system, and the issues of dual-use items. Smarter sanctions were meant to improve matters for the Iraqi people, but the US made this policy problematical.

15.10 The topic moves to sanctions.

15.05 Sir Roderick asks about alternatives to the NFZ’s, in terms of giving warnings to Saddam re persecution of his own people. The replies are that the NFZ’s were essentially defensive, whilst other action would have been seen as aggressive.

14.50 Simon Webb talks about long-distance radar being increasingly employed by Iraq in 2001, located outside the NFZs. Self-defence justifications were used, which went to the Attorney General for confirmation.

14.40 Sir Lawrence asks about Operation Desert Fox. Simon Webb answers about Iraqi air defences being degraded.

14.35 Back to Sir Michael – he is asked about the continuing legality of the NFZs in the later period and states that the Attorney General has had to be consulted in order for legal advise to be presented to the committee. The advice was that the legality remained despite the lessened humanitarian need.

14.25 Sir Roderick asks about the continuing purposes of the NFZs in 2000/1. William Patey replies that the two zones were dependent on Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for logistic support, and that the two zones were not separable in practical terms.

14.12 Sir Michael Wood is giving evidence on the legality of the no-fly zones. The initial justification was humanitarian, R.688 was invoked but this resolution was not used to formally legalise the effort.

14.02 It seems this afternoon’s session is mainly going to be about the no-fly zones.

Archived Comments

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/24 at 3:25pm

Has Patey not heard of Hans von Sponeck or Dennis Halliday, UN officials in Iraq who resigned their positions because of the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi population?

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/24 at 3:35pm

Guardian 3 January 2001

A former senior UN official (Hans von Sponeck) writes an open letter to Britain’s minister with responsibility for Iraq, Peter Hain, a leading voice in defence of a policy now widely seen as ineffective and immoral.

Hain: “With this large amount of revenue available, one cannot help but ask why we still see pictures of malnourished and sick children?”

von Sponeck: “My first reaction to this tendentious statement is to ask whether your officials ever show you UN documents? Unicef has repeatedly pointed out that this reality is only going to change when the sanctions regime is once again replaced by a normally functioning economy. Let me add that more often than not, it is the blocking of contracts by the US/UK which has created immense problems in implementing the oil-for-food programme. The present volume of blocked items amounts to $2.3bn the highest ever.

Hain: “It is an outrage that the Iraqi government wilfully denies food and medicine…”.

von Sponeck: “Please forgive me if I say that it is an outrage that against your better knowledge you repeat again and again truly fabricated and self-serving disinformation. Why do you ignore UN stock reports which give you the monthly distribution situation and which, verified by UN observers, show for food, medicines and other humanitarian supplies an average of over 90% distributed per month?”

More at:

This morning’s hearing, as it happened

12.56 The session has wrapped up with witnesses struggling to explain why other countries did not see the Iraqi “threat” in the same terms as the US. Overall, I think what we have learnt is that UK policymakers were very much happy to maintain a policy of seeking tougher, smarter sanctions, but the US wanted regime change. Pretty significant.

12.45 Laurence Freedman is doubting that Whitehall was really not aware at the end of 2001 that the Bush administration was thinking very hard about regime change. They stick to their guns.

12.42 Patey seems to be owning up to a paper that floated regime change…

12:41 The Inquiry has just failed its first test. Lyne has asked whether ministers actually sat down and consciously changed the policy. Ricketts said it happened in late February to March 2002. Lyne wants to know if there were ministerial discussions, but the question was ducked.

12.36 Ricketts has just acknowledged his letter to Straw of March 2002, saying that the our in “what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programmes, but our tolerance of them post-11 September” refers more to the US than the UK.

12.35 Both Ricketts and Patey seem to be suggesting that the Foreign Office wanted to pursue a policy of tougher containment. Webb comes in quickly with the “but what if that doesn’t work?” question.

12.31 Prashar has just asked whether Whitehall co-ordination continued to work in the same way after September 11. Ricketts says he thinks it did.

12.25 Webb says that restoring the role of the UN inspectors became a policy priority but the questions started to come, “well if you can’t get that to work, what next?” Patey says that interest in a containment regime diminished in the US.

12.22 Baroness Prashar has just asked why regime change came into play. Ricketts says that it was not UK policy at this point (November 2001) and then went on to explain the US perspective. He has now fast-forwarded to Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union address and the “axis of evil”.

12.20 Chilcot has just asked how quickly regime change came to the fore, after “9/11”. Ricketts is sticking with his line that it was in November 2001 that the UK began to hear about “phase 2”.

12.13 Ricketts says that in November 2001, following the invasion of Afghanistan, we began to hear of a “phase two of the war on terror”.

12.09 Chilcot has just asked the key question: how much did the event of September 11 change the UK’s assessment of Iraq? (leaving out what the US position was)

In response, Ricketts is saying that it put counter-terrorism and wmd up the agenda. “When it comes to wmd and Iraq, it gives the whole issue greater saliance and prominence”. But “it didn’t change the thrust of our policy”.

12.04 Peter Ricketts appears to be warming up to say that it was September 11 that changed everything, from a UK point of view. He has said that before “9/11” the policy of pursuing smarter sanctions was the right one. He has also begun to say what a huge impact September 11 had…

12.00 Under questioning, William Patey has said that the position in 2001 was that, even if sanctions were removed, it would take “a few years” for Saddam to become a threat to the region.

11.45 The first part of the first hearing has now paused for a ten minute break. What have we learnt? Probably the most important thing is that in 2001 the policy of containment via UN sanctions was seen to be failing and in danger of breaking down. But the answer was seen as tougher or “smarter” sanctions.

In the US, Colin Powell was seen as having time to pursue a policy of tightening the sanctions regime, although some, like Condoleezza Rice, were already talking about regime change. Peter Ricketts said Whitehall’s approach to this was to “keep a long way from the regime change end of the spectrum.”

But that was all before September 11…

(Blog record was lost prior to this point)

Archived Comments

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/24 at 12:02pm

It was refreshing to hear the word “overthrow” used instead of “regime change”. Ricketts was candid in his written advice to Jack Straw about what to say to Blair before he met Bush (22 March 2002).He said “The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein’s wmd programmes, but our tolerance of them post-11 September … even the best survey of Iraq’s wmd programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclea, missile or chemical weapons/biological weapons fronts …”. That didn’t come across this morning, when Lyne asked him whether the JIC rated the Iraqi wmd threat as high, medium or low.

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/24 at 1:10pm

Lyne and Freedman’s incredulity that the FO was not addressing the US’s increasing emphasis on “regime change” by Christmas 2001 is entirely understandable. Only ten or so weeks later (22 March 2002) Ricketts was advising the Foreign Secretary prior to Crawford, “For Iraq, ‘regime change’ does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam. Much better, as you have suggested, to make the objective ending the threat to the international community from Iraqi wmd before Saddam uses it or gives it to the terrorists. This is easier to justify in terms of international law but also more demanding …”

By Iain Paton (former RAF)

Submitted on 2009/11/24 at 1:11pm

Not much light shed on the role of ministers despite some probing questions.
Interesting line of questioning from Lyne regarding the different attitudes of different nations as to the urgency of any WMD threat from Iraq. Response regarded intelligence sharing – it is a certainty that all intelligence that was shared was UK/US eyes only…maybe Australia and Canada (AUS/CAN/UK/US) as well in certain instances but almost certainly not for intelligence. That’s one answer that conveniently allows for doubt about intelligence, but that ignores the wider political agenda.

Freedman appears to doubt that a new US regime change agenda was picked up in Whitehall towards the end of 2001…however, that was the era of “sofa government” and US turf wars between the Pentagon and State Department, so the response is perhaps credible.

Maybe fair enough to postpone the question about preparing Blair for the Crawford meeting….that fits with the chronology.

I am cautiously confident in the line of questioning so far…as long as the role of ministers in policy formulation is covered properly.

By resistor

Submitted on 2009/11/24 at 5:49pm


One of the witnesses (can’t identify which one) repeated unchallenged the canard of the weapons inspectors being ‘thrown out’. For me this is like the clock striking ‘thirteen’. You can’t rely on other untruths slipping through.

Craig Murray has revealing background on the panel here…

By Chris Ames

Submitted on 2009/11/24 at 5:55pm

Resistor, I think you are right about this. I think it was Webb, who, of the three witnesses, seemed to be trying hardest to put a particular spin on things.

By Robert Brown

Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 5:08pm

Sorry listening to these questions to Manning leaves me unimpressed with this hearing. Manning keeps letting us know that if UN root fails then the UK will join with US in invasion, he is repeatedly not asked the obvious supplementary questions as to what authority, with Tony Blair just being a PM, and not a President, that Blair could give these assurances without Parliament.

We also hear that it will take six months to prepare for military option 3 yet we are supposed to believe that option 3 which was the option taken did not occur until after UN procedure was exhausted.

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