Live Blog – 1 December 2009

Tuesday 1 December 2009


(There was one evidence session today, scheduled for 10:00 – 13:00.)

Topic: UK policy towards Iraq, 2001 – 2003

Edward Chaplin, HM Ambassador to Jordan, 2000-2002

Sir Peter Ricketts (again), Director General Political (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 2001-2003
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This morning’s hearing, as it happened


This morning’s witnesses were Edward Chaplin CMG OBE and Sir Peter Ricketts KCMG, speaking on the the same issue as yesterday, ‘UK policy towards Iraq 2001 – 2003’.

12.48 That’s it. Another farce with the panel unwilling to quote from the documents that contradict the witnesses’ claims. One small chink of light when Lyne suggested that he didn’t really believe the claim from Ricketts (and Manning) that there was no decision in March 2002. What do you think?

12.47 Chilcot winding up with summary. Look forward to Thursday! Have heard a lot about development of policy and relationship with US. Will now hear more about military and aftermath planning.

12.46 Final comments. Chaplin tries to put the whole thing in the context of Iraqi regime’s historical failure to comply. Started to unravel in the late 90’s when trust began to break down. US opposition to “transition” nuclear file. Concluded that we should give it every last chance but peaceful resolution of disarmament obligations. needed to contrive circumstances of getting the best outcome “if it came to military action.”. It was the failure to contrive those circumstances that was the most serious lack.

12.41 Lyne asks about the idea of running post war Iraq in an “exemplary” way. Ricketts doesn’t know where this came from. Did we have the financial resources? Was DfID sufficiently integrated? ! think we could have done with more resources.

12.40 Chaplin says that people who were associated with the previous regime was unacceptable to the local people.

12.37 There has long discussion about the necessary troop numbers and disbanding the Iraqi army. I think. I’m finding it quite hard to pay attention any more.

12.30 Chilcot invites the witnesses to comment on the “one shining light” of the post-war UN mandate. Tremendous achievement…

12.29 Was too much effort put into diplomacy rather than post-conflict planning. Ricketts claims we were trying to avoid war… It’s always possible to say that one could do more. The ultimate non-answer from a civil servant.

Regarding feed problems, I’ve got it OK on the Digest and Inquiry sites.

12.26 Any lessons learned? Anything you would have done differently? US mainly to blame but we learned some lessons too. Main lesson was to have a strategy, a plan and do more preparatory work.

12.24 Straw went out and saw that ORHA was a mess. Efforts to get the US to do something, get a grip on it…

12.21 This is getting very tedious and slow. Discussion of why things went wrong. De-Ba’athification. Rumours, conspiracy theories.

12.18 Discussion of inevitability of ethnic conflict. Saw consequences of inevitable transfer of power (through democracy) from Sunni to Shia.

12.15 Meanwhile, from the Guardian:

“The Iraq inquiry should publish an interim report before the general election declaring the war illegal, a former law lord said today.”

Also this, from Martin Kettle. I haven’t read the piece but I agree with his basic premise:

“Legality is partly a matter of dates, and a ‘smoking gun’ legal note was written before the key UN security council resolution”

But surely we should see the memo? Kettle agrees.

12.14 Lyne asks whether people outside the FCO were warning that there was a high risk of ethnic and sectarian conflict. The answer is that there was a range of views some of which came from people with their own agendas. Astonishing comment from Chaplin: if you start from the point of view that war is a very bad thing, you tend to amass the evidence…” Has he no insight at all into what he and other did throughout the whole process?

12.10 Ricketts is now saying that resolution 1441 opened the possibility of a material breach and therefore of military action. So again he is revealing that 1441 was about going to war, not avoiding it.

12.09 Were we discussing with UN. Ricketts says something very revealing. Throughout the process, we were assuming that there would be a second resolution, which would give them a role in the post-conflict phase. HANG ON A SECOND. YOU’VE BEEN SAYING THAT THE SECOND RESOLUTION WAS TO AVOID WAR. NOW YOU HAVE ADMITTED THAT IT WAS PART OF THE PLAN FOR GOING TO WAR. D’oh!

12.06 Lyne asks if UK assumption that UN would take lead post conflict role in Iraq was shared in US. No the Dept of Defense was not going to “hand over Iraq to the UN”.

12.03 Chaplin: we hoped that by putting people alongside the US we would be able to exert influence but that wasn’t always easy. One of the problems was difficulties with communications (infrastructure).

12.02 Friction over extent of UN involvement. US didn’t want to be subservient to UN and vice versa. Agreement between Bush an Blair at Belfast summit.

12.00 Discussion of what happened when it became clear that the “Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance” (ORHA) would be in charge. disagreement with US over legal position. UK thought that in absence of UN resolution, Geneva Convention etc set the framework for occupying powers. That’s why we went for a new resolution post-war.

11.56 Discussion of how concerns were put over. The US heard what we were saying but it didn’t impact.

11.53 Discussion of attitudes of US and others to aftermath and earlier approach of tightening sanctions. very dull

11.48 Discussion of how FCO found out about Iraq. Via exile groups, other countries, academic institution. Lot of contact with exile groups.

11.47 Officials were warning ministers and this advice was “absolutely” being listened to… (Yawn)

11.45 Talking about increased interest in aftermath at end of 2002, into 2003.

11.43 An incredibly woolly unconfident question from Prashar: what where the objectives, I mean what did you want to achieve?

11.41 They are back. Prashar wants to ask about post-conflict planning. Goes to Ricketts’ statement that regime change might be outcome but was not objective. Ricketts says UN was correct vehicle.

11.25 That’s the break. It has been an incredibly frustrating session, where Ricketts has stuck to the line that it was about wmd. For the most part the panel have failed to bring in the document that contradict this. At the end there was a chink of light from Lyne with some good questions and he seems to be disputing the story. He asked if ministers (ie the cabinet) had seen the options paper, which was a good question that go no answer!

11.23 Ricketts puts on the record his own perception that Blair did not go to Crawford with a new policy. Tries to explain away Meyer’s “new instructions”. I thought there was no new decision.

11.22 Freedman discusses consequences of failure of 2nd resolution regarding trust in UN processes. Disjunction between the two. Were ministers warned that we were not prepared enough? Ministers were warned passed on concerns to US but nothing really happened. Freedman: Did we have a plan for regime toppling but not for regime change? Ricketts says there were a whole series of concerns. Freedman says that one thing we did know was that if the campaign was successful, we would be in charge of Iraq.

11.18 Further discussion of US failure to plan for aftermath. Unwillingness to use State Department expertise. Idea that they should not worry so much about the aftermath because it was all going to be sweetness and light.

11.17 Were there discussions with Israelis? Yes.

11.16 Freedman refers to claims in 2002 that the road to ME peace went to Bagdhad. Chaplin plays this down.

11.15 Discussion of US attitude to ME: “They could have tried harder.”

11.12 Lyne observes that Meyer said that his instructions did change days after the Options paper and changed in line with what it was suggesting. Is this a sign that Lyne at least does not believe Ricketts and Meyer?

11.11 Lyne praises Options paper. Was there really no decision. Ricketts says there were no decisions to be taken. He is surely having a laugh.

11.10 Lyne is asking about Options paper and Straw’s meeting. Was the options paper discussed collectively by ministers. What decision was taken before Crawford. Ricketts cannot say whether there was a meeting of ministers. Options paper was put up to ministers.

11.09 Discussion of attempt to persuade SH to leave. No-one quite knows where it has come from

11.07 Discussion of attempt to get further time. Ricketts says it came back to Blair’s promise to stick with the US. His commitment to remove wmd by military force took over. Gilbert says that that commitment meant that no-one else had any say, which is denied.

11.04 What was advice to ministers? Ricketts waffles but Chaplin says that papers were going up to ministers, which the Inquiry has seen. Claims falsely without being challenged that Chirac said he would veto any resolution. US would not brook delay. French denied that they had ruled out military action, thought the US were just trying to get Saddam and looking for excuse.

11.03 What was the assessment of the situation after the failure to get a second resolution? We had no argument to counter the claim that SH had failed to comply.

11.02 Was there a point at which the military build-up became the inevitability of military action? Ricketts agrees with this but stresses that military build up was diplomatic leverage. Claims that failure to get 2nd resolution undermined this. But he hasn’t addressed the point that the military build-up undermined the resolution.

11.01 Claims that efforts were made to buy more time, including effort for 2nd resolution.

11.00 Asking about assessment of non-co-operation. Ricketts claims that even though co-operation improved, the trend was towards increased concern that we were not getting full co-operation. Surely they can see that he is just spinning?

10.58 Here we go again. Gilbert asks about the impact of the incomplete Iraqi declaration in showing that the UN inspection route was not going to work. Ricketts points out that they were also looking for “full co-operation” except that they were looking for non-co-operation.

10.56 Gilbert asks whether there was a point early March 2003 when planning for post-war became more intense as it became clear that UN route was not going to work! I’ve more or less given up listening to the answers. What is revealing is that the panel have fallen hook, line an sinker for the claim that the UN route was a plan to avoid war, as opposed to justifying it, which is what the documents, including Ricketts’, show.

10.54 Now talking about PM’s seminar November 2002. Freedman declares his presence at this meeting!!! Says it was his only direct involvement in direct policy making!!

10.52 Discussion of the approach to aftermath in early 2003, whether it was perceived that war was inevitable. Iraq policy unit produced loads of papers. (Didn’t they come in v late in the day?)

10.49 Discussion of planning for aftermath November 2002 in which Chaplin was involved. Differences between State Dept and “elsewhere in Washington” about UN role. He is too diplomatic to name names. No-one seems to care.

10.45 Discussion of perceived rift between US and UK in August 2002. Straw’s visit to Powell. Rickett’s line is that the UK wanted to keep the US on the UN route, instead of regime change!

10.42 Discussion of aftermath, and planning for it.

10.40 How seriously was the Saudi offer to persuade SH to leave? It was serious but we didn’t get the resolution. Gilbert says it is another example of the failure to get at second resolution.

10.37 Gilbert seems to accept that they were looking for a diplomatic solution. Talking about efforts to get people on board in the region. “We were not looking for an excuse to take military action.”

Which bit of “you would not budge in your support for regime change” do they not understand?

10.34 Gilbert asks was there not a presumption that we were going to war? Ricketts says that was not his presumptions. They were working on diplomacy for threat of force. Legal issues to overcome. Was possible that Saddam would comply or leave . Chaplin says that after 1441 it was hoped that there might be a way of resolving it peacefully.

10.33 How far did UK participation in military planning add to US perceptions that our participation was all but inevitably. Hard to answer this but the record could not be clearer that we would have to try every other option before war. But he hasn’t answered the question. None of what he says means that the UK did not signal that it would go to war eventually.

10.32 How far was military action impeded by the need not to signal that military action was coming? It wasn’t impeded because we were doing it confidentially as contingency planning.

10.30 Ricketts refers to Cabinet Office documents in July, this is the Cabinet Office paper. It was not an objective but likely to be a consequence of military action that we would get rid of Saddam. Also, he might go anyway.

10.28 Now discussing military planning. Ricketts says that he was involved in working out an end state. We never supported the idea of regime change. Now he is just laughing at them because he knows they don’t dare challenge him.

10.25 Discussion of whether there was an attempt with UNSCR 1441 to set the bar to high – or get something achievable. “Our intention was always that there was a resolution that was capable of being implemented.”

Cabinet Office briefing paper:

“It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community. However, failing that (or an Iraqi attack) we would be most unlikely to achieve a legal base for military action by January 2003.”

10.23 Gilbert wonders to what extent it was assessed that a new inspections regime might not be effective. The answer is in the Options Paper. But the witnesses keep claiming that they were genuinely hopeful that the inspections would work.

“Tougher containment would not re-integrate Iraq into the international community as it offers little prospect of removing Saddam. He will continue with his WMD programmes, destabilising the Arab and Islamic world, and impoverishing his people. But there is no greater threat no that he will use WMD than there has been in recent years, so continuing containment is an option.”

10.20 Gilbert asks about third condition, re UN route. How much did Saddam’s past behaviour affect what was seen as a good resolution. Ricketts claims that the UK saw inspectors as the best way to deal with wmd (except that the Options Paper shows that it was thought that under a toughened containment policy Saddam “will continue with his WMD programmes”.

10.19 Ricketts is saying how much Blair was concerned about ME at Crawford etc.

10.15 To what extent did Britain warn the US of the apparent double standards of taking action on Iraq but not Israel/Palestine? Chaplin answers for the first time. Says it is a good point. Other countries in the ME were more concerned about Israel/Palestine and raised the double standard issue and the apparent failure of the US do do anything very much about it. Fair to say the PM was seized of this. Told Bush it had to be taken seriously.

10.13 It’s unclear whether Gilbert understands that Ricketts is talking about a different policy approach (containment) from the one that he asked him about. Asking about the effectiveness of efforts to convince people. The September 2002 dossier was a result of ministers’ desire to put “more information” on the public record.

10.12 Gilbert I think has asked how hard the government tried to convince public opinion that military action was required. Ricketts is saying that they tried to convince people of a need for toughened containment, which is a different policy entirely!

10.09 How were things discussed? In the paper of 6 March, in which FCO had input. Refers to discussion of containment vs regime change. Ricketts seems to be playing down regime change. Went up to ministers. Had discussion with Straw. Straw wrote to Blair, subsequently leaked!!!!

10.08 Gilbert asks whether containment still had meaning in spring 2002. Ricketts mentions the Options paper and distinguishes between toughened containment and the theoretical policy of intervention.

10.06 When did you become aware that the US was contemplating a more active approach to regime change. Ricketts says that they knew the policy was in the bloodstream of the administration. After 9/11 Bush etc began to mention Iraq. Looking back there was a process, an evolution to a settled determination and a policy to cover it out. The process went on until summer of 2002. No particular point between 9/11 and Crawford that there had been a change in US policy.

10.04 Chilcot has asked Ricketts about missing documents. Ricketts says that disclosure is continuing. Chilcot says he is happy that the government is giving full access.

10.03 There is as yet no feed on the Inquiry’s website. But you can see it on the Digest.
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Archived Comments


By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/12/01 at 10:52am

The Inquiry has at last publicly acknowledged the leaked Downing Street documents, but really has not yet probed their significance, despite having one of the authors (Ricketts) sitting in front of them this morning. Will they also fail to probe the significance of the minute of the Prime Minister’s meeting (known as the Downing Street Memo) of 23 July 2002? In it the head of MI6 was minuted as saying that in Washington “military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy …”? Blair said “Regime change and weapons of mass destruction were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the weapons of mass destruction”. Or not, as almost everyone now understands. The Attorney-General’s unpublished memo of July 2002, apparently warning Blair of the illegality of such plans, may have been written in response to this Prime Minister’s meeting of 23 July 2002, in which he participated. Its conclusions, according to the minute, include a note that “We must not ignore legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MoD legal adviers”. Most of the documents are published in THE DODGIEST DOSSIER: http://www.spokesmanbooks.com/

By John Bone

Submitted on 2009/12/01 at 12:39pm

Kettle is saying that the “smoking gun memo” isn’t really significant because it was in mid-2002 before Bush went to the UN, so it is quite possible for the AG to have legitimately changed his mind. He ends up saying that the problem with the invasion of Iraq was not whether or not it was illegal but that it was an error.

I think he’s trying to muddy the waters. Like Oliver Kamm he is trying to set the bar high: he’ll then claim that Blair is in the clear because there were no significant “smoking gun” memos.

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/12/01 at 1:25pm

Goldsmith’s unpublished memo of 29 July 2002 was sent a few days after the Prime Minister’s meeting at No.10 on 23 July, which was recorded in the very revealing Downing Street Memo, leaked in 2005. Indeed, Goldsmith’s unpublished memo may have been sent in response to the meeting, which the Attorney-General attended, and which, in its conclusions, noted that he would consult with FCO and MoD lawyers as part of follow-up work. The Mail on Sunday’s timeline mentions a Cabinet meeting on 23 July, but this seems to be mistaken for the Prime Minister’s meeting on that day, which was much more exclusive. The content of this landmark meeting,as recorded in the minute signed by Matthew Rycroft, continues to resonate. John Scarlett “summarised the intelligence and the latest Joint Intelligence Committee assessment”. Will he be probed about this when he gives evidence on 8 December?

By chris lamb

Submitted on 2009/12/01 at 10:02pm

Kettle appears to argue that Goldsmith’s 29 July 2002 memo may not be such a “bombshell” because it related to a legal context then but the creation of UNSRC1441 changed that, putting in place a new set of legal criteria for which Goldsmith’s 17 March 2003 amended legal advice and Blair’s action over the invasion may have been a correct legal rendering.

UNSRC1441, because of its monstrous unwieldiness and arcane drafting, has so far confounded any unequivocal definition as to the legality of Goldsmith’s 17 March amended advice and the consequent Bush/Blair invasion.

The Chilcot Inquiry should check out whether there is anything in the paragraphs of this Resolution which authorized the delegation of powers to individual states to decide themselves upon whether conditions it laid down were breached in the case of Iraq and whether force or military action should ensue.

There are four key paragraphs in the Resolution- paragraphs 4, 11, 12 and 13.

Paragraph 4 “Decides that false statements or omissions in the declaration submitted by Iraq pursuant to this Resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with/ co-operate in the implementation of this Resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations and will be reported to the Council for assessment in accordance with paragraphs 11 and 12;

Paragraph 11- Directs the Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC and the Director General of the IAEA to report immediately to the Council any interference by Iraq with inspection activities, as well as any failure by Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations including its obligations regarding inspections under this Resolution;

Paragraph 12- Decides to convene immediately upon receipt of a report in accordance with paragraphs 4 or 11 above in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance of the relevant Council Resolution in order to secure international peace and security;

Paragraph 13- Recalls; in that context, that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violation of its obligations.

There is no doubt that the wording (and intentions) behind these key paragraphs are tough but nowhere does it authorize what is termed “automaticity” (or a chain of action leading to war which does not require prior consideration by the Security Council) or the delegation of powers to individual nations to determine breaches of the resolution and the use of military force in consequence.

Paragraph 12 clearly specifies the intention to convene the Security Council “in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance” should reports be made in accordance with paragraphs 4 and 11. The avowed purpose is to “secure international peace and security” not to put in train military force initiated by selective powers.

Paragraph 13 only “recalls” the repeated warnings given by the Council to Iraq about serious consequences following violations. It does not authorize these “consequences” taking the form of delegated military action by individual powers.

Paragraph 14; which rounds off the Resolution “Decides to remain seized of the matter”. An on-line dictionary legal definition of “seized” is given as “having taken possession of evidence for the use of putting forward a case- eg. in a criminal prosecution).

This strongly implies that a further Resolution was required in order to deliberate and decide a case or further action upon evidence collected from this Resolution.

It should be noted that Sir Jeremy Greenstock in delivering the British vote for this Resolution in October 2002 stated strongly his view that there was no “trigger” or “automaticity” within it and that all matters arising from it should go to the Security Council for the Council to exercise their full and collective responsibility.

Perhaps that is why, in his evidence to Chilcot, he described the legal interpretation given UNSRC1441 to justify the invasion as “lacking legitimacy”. It also needs to be decided whether it was lawful.

By Lee Roberts

Submitted on 2009/12/02 at 5:40am

I keep having to repeat that Saddam having WMDs, and even his capacity to use them in 45 minutes, is not a legal pretext for invasion. Israel is in the same position. You would have to show evidence that he was about to use them on Britain and that a pre-emptive strike at Saddam would be a justified act of defense. As far as I know, that evidence has never been shown, and I cant even remember it ever having been asked for. Am I crazy, or is there a huge missing element in all of this ? I would be delighted if someone could put me right, or confirm that I have a point.

By chris lamb

Submitted on 2009/12/02 at 8:12pm

Hi Lee

Unfortunately I cannot confirm that you have a point because I do not understand what you are getting at. The fact of the matter is that Saddam having WMDs was a “legal pretext”, even if it was not a legal justification, for the military action.

You can also bet that when the Chilcot Inquiry gets round to considering the “legal basis of military action”, its agenda (set behind the scenes by discretionary osmosis) will focus primarily on UN Security Council 1441 and not “regime change”.

This Inquiry is not going to be about exposing just one “smoking gun”. Those who want to establish the illegal foundations of the war will have to demyth a whole range of things. We need to anticipate and prepare for what will be important.

UNSCR1441 will, of course, be very important to the Government’s case, partly because of its unwieldy incomprehensibility- meaning it is truly understood by very few- and partly because (as Sir Jeremy Greenstock pointed out) it is one of the landmarks of the route to war whose spurious “legality” has not yet been probed and definitively disproven.

That is why, after a full days work and two hours journeying one way and the other, I spent a couple of night time hours writing the above long analysis. I hope it is the first step toward subjecting this difficult Resolution to rigorous analysis and debunking.

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