Live Blog – 10 December 2009

Thursday 10 December 2009

(There was one evidence session today, scheduled for 09:00 – 12:00.)

Topic: No 10 perspective in 2001; the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority

Sir John Sawers, Private Secretary to Tony Blair with responsibility for Foreign Affairs, 1999-2001; UK Special Envoy for Iraq, May – July 2003, and Political Director, FCO, 2003 – 2007

This morning’s hearing, as it happened

Today’s only witness was Sir John Sawers KCMG, former Private Secretary to the Prime Minister with responsibility for Foreign Affairs 1999-2001, speaking on the issue of ‘No10 perspective in 2001; the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority’.

Comment from Chris Ames: Did Sir Roderick Lyne – for the first time I have seen – subtly suggest that the documentary evidence says something different from what Sawers was saying? See 9.39

12.11 Discusses overall situation and problems. Sawers – Last thing. Refers to RAND study. CPA did a considerably good job when compared to other situations. Sir John closes.

12.02 Gilbert and Freedman – summing up broad qns. Main decisions taken in first week after Bremer’s arrival. Keen to listen but wanted to follow Washington’s lead. Chalabi (?) seemed not the right person to lead.

11.57 Baroness Prasher – Did you have enough flexibility? London was responsive to 100+ reports.

11.54 De Mello used Sawers as a sounding board, Difference between Bremer and De Mello were about use of force, detainee conditions. Bremer did not want to cede power to UN.

11.50 Iraqi governing council launched after extensive consultations. (feed stall) Powers to budget etc. to pave the way for constitution. Influence? Closely involved as a team, esp with UN, a close role.

11.44 Co-ordination was informal – no Brit only meetings excepting security and social. PM was briefed in May, Whitehall had taken ‘its foot off the gas pedal’. ORHA was prematurely going to hand over power. Moves towards transitional government instead of interim. Political council mooted.

11.38 Lyne – did CPA work? Bremer was reporting to Rumsfeld. Sawers could co-ordinate CPA and UN. Later there were 90 Brits in CPA, but not a concerted effort. Work done in finance and legal areas, women, media. Not a comprehensive role.

11.34 Seemed to Sawers that the US posture was wrong and could not convert to peacekeeping role. Bremer saw this as wrong too, and supported UK paratrooper move to Baghdad. Reductions in force levels were planned, but this had to be reversed.

11.31 Gen Mike Jackson visited, in discussion problem was ‘posture’ of US forces (Darth Vadar/sunglasses) with no rapport with civilians.

11.27 (another feed stall) Security was responsibility of military forces not Bremer, who was responsible for civilian aspect.

11.24 (2 minute gap in feed) The decision to disband the Army did not trigger the insurgency, but it may have contributed to it. Chilcot – did disbandment lead to arming the insurgency. Hard to answer. The Iraqi forces had not been defeated, they had melted away.

11.18 Lyne – turning to Iraqi military. Sawers – Discussed 12 May with Bremer who had direction and agreement from Washington. Reality was that Iraqi Army had disbanded itself. (feed stalled).

11.14 99% of the Ba’ath party was not involved. Had been thought through in Washington but not in London. Chalabi took a ‘hard view’. Extent of policy was debatable, problems in execution because this was carried out by Iraqi governing power.

11.08 Comparisons were made with Germany 1945. Reconstruction of political system was impossible without clarity. The ‘fourth level’ and above was of concern, 20-30,000 out of 2 million members. To be credible it had to be shown that the Ba’athist era was over.

11.03 Re CPA South, de facto control fell to us. The Danish ambassador in control there was not able to provide leadership and make an impact. Lyne – Bremer’s decisions re de-Ba’athification and Iraqi Army disbandment – were we consulted? There was internal Iraqi refusal to co-operate with Ba’athists. Bremer said he needed to give clarity. This issue was high on Bremer’s mind. Sawers needed guidance from London. Was basis for discussion with Bremer. There was a strong desire from Iraqi political parties to remove the Ba’athists. Crocker was in support of Bremer. Washington pressed for full de-Ba’athification.

10.54 Situation on the ground? Chaotic, ORHA did not have a clear strategy. Phase 4 – did you sense London and Washington were getting their act together? Limited info flow from Baghdad to London. the ‘Flat Pack’ embassy was outside the green zone and deemed to be unsafe. ‘Clunky’ comms system.

10.50 Lyne – were you in a position to influence? I had a seat at the table. Worked together with Bremer, who saw himself representing the Coalition. US was providing funds, limited control over this. No say in CPA issues.

10.44 Hoon and Short had concerns, Straw wanted imposition of common sense, and an appraisal. Power? A new position, British ambassador was not engaged. Position was special advisor. Senior Brit on the ground but not Bremer’s deputy.

10.44 Session resuming. To Baghdad in 2003. FCO and No10 contacted Sawers, would he be interested and available? 10 minute decision and decided to accept. O’Brian FCO saw disarray on the ground.

10.33 Five minute break. Chris Ames is handing over to Andrew Mason for the rest of the session.

10.32 Gilbert asks about March 2001 review and “practical steps” to restore Iraq to its international position. Did UK policy makers understand that this was limited to what you have outlined? Yes. Gilbert but this implies regime change? No-one thought that Saddam would change or move on.

10.31 Freedman asks about Blair’s prior knowledge of plans to “respond” to Iraqi efforts to bring down allied plane but not about timing.

10.30 Attorney general had raised concerns about the legality of NFZs. He eventually agreed that it was legitimate as long as tests were met. Humanitarian policy had evolved towards one of defending Kuwait. Freedman: and suppressing Iraqi air defences.

10.28 How involved was number 10 in new plan for management of NFZs? Not as involved as we might be. Was a military matter. Had been a build up of Iraqi attempts to bring down a plane. Was concern in military circles. A plan was developed for a firmer response. There was a response. The timing – pre Camp David – was co-incidental. Reaction in the region to intensity of attacks showed difficulty of maintaining policy.

10.23 Freedman asks if there was thought to be a possibility of a war crimes indictment, as discussed with Rice? There had been developments, ICC etc. “They were not in favour of using ICC against Saddam”. Practical help to Indict campaign. Freedman puts point that US relationship to ICC was a problem.

10.22 Freedman refers to Milosovic. What is the valid analogy? We would rather deal with these countries under new leaders. By containing Milosovic militarily, support to opposition, information, we brought about a change. No one thought the same thing would work with Iraq in a hurry but thought should show Iraqi people it wasn’t about them. Some parallels but regime much more violent, much more brutal – focus on exile groups.

10.19 Did PM see Iraq as primarily a humanitarian problem or a disarmament problem? You would have to ask him but I think his main concern was wmd? He believed the intelligence.

10.18 Freedman: so there was no incentive for regime to comply? Yes, because it was in the resolution that if Iraq was cleared of wmd, there would be no basis for sanctions. Wanted to go ahead without need for regime’s agreement.

10.17 Freedman asks if the offer of end of sanctions if inspectors were allowed back was considered? Yes but gave initiative to Saddam, who could trigger confrontation. Discussion of whether return of inspectors was a good idea as it might provoke confrontation!!!! Prospect of change in regime was far off. Idea of moving towards a post Saddam Iraq was considered. Ideas of arming opposition, but not much. Containment least bad of a series of unattractive policies.

10.12 Chilcot summarises that ME did not have direct effect on Iraq. Sawers agrees.

10.11 Chilcot asks re perceptions in region. People realised that there were links. This was a concern that Cheney had addressed: real concerns that we needed to be seen to be taking forward ME peace and this was more important than Iraq. Arabs comfortable with containment on Iraq but wanted something to happen on Israel.

10.09 Chilcot asks about interaction with broad middle east issues including Arab/Israel. Sawers: most of us thought a more concerted effort was needed. Enormous efforts by Clinton failed. Sharon came in. Thought no prospect of moving forward quickly. Blair thought “if you can’t solve a problem, you have to manage it”. Best to have an active policy on ME.

10.08 Was there consideration to going back to UN? If the Russians were going to veto out best efforts…. I left No 10 in Summer 2001.

10.07 Prashar asks what conclusions Sawers drew. We thought this was right further modification to pursue. It exposed the cynicism of Iraqi leadership and Russian approach. We thought if we could not modify existing policy, best approach was to carry on with it.

10.06 What attempts were made to persuade Putin? Blair and Chirac talked to Putin. Blair met Putin at summit and asked but Putin refused. I had the sense it was partly commercial but also Russians strategic analysis of their interests in region.

10.05 Was an attempt made to get around this? Yes but Russians would not agree because Iraq did not want it.

10.02 Why did smart sanctions policy fail? Because Russians wouldn’t agree to it. Why did they not support? Ostensible reason was that they thought modified sanctions were too broad. Real reason, conveyed by senior figures, was commercial interests and the Iraqis did not want to change sanctions as they were working for the regime. Threatened to cut off all Russia’s contracts if they supported resolution. Russians threatened to veto.

10.01 Main outcome was narrowing down sanctions to goods review list. Also simplification to procedures to approving contracts. Maintenance of regime for oil export with proceeds to UN. Oil for food either simplified or brought to an end. These were the elements put to UN. There were other elements re NFZs.

9.59 Did we have voices in our own system arguing for regime change? I don’t recall a serious and considered discussion. Lyne: I raise this because Meyer called PM a true believer. Sawers: you would have to ask Blair about that. There are lots of places where we would like to see changes in regimes. Saddam one of last remaining absolute dictators.

9.55 Lyne asks whether ministers conducted strategic review, as opposed to tactical. Was the option of unhitching UK policy from the US discussed. To what extent was it really the case that our policy of containment was not working? Costs may be high but was working… Sawers: I’ve not reviewed all the papers from 1999 but I don’t recall a major strategic overview of Iraq policy. 2001 review was more than tactical. No-one thought Iraq could simply be re-integrated. Aggressive regime change not given serious consideration. Broad consensus that right approach was containment, how best to achieve that.

9.53 How was it taken forward? Via UN. The US were not keen to get involved in negotiations. French pleasantly surprised. Resolution put to UNSC. Broad sympathy but blocked by Russians.

9.52 Was it discussed with minister/DOP. No other things on, foot and mouth, election.

9.51 How were decision reached? Papers put to Straw. Approved it. I gave it to PM who was involved in other things but thought outcome was consistent with discussions with Bush.

9.50 Review started with a narrow set of options but elements were added. Ideas re political approach to regime change were added. Travel bans. Clearer position on what to do if NFZs were seriously threatened. Military advised that if brought an end to S NFZ it would require significant military reinforcement.

9.49 Lyne points out that assessment in late 90s was that Iraq’s nuclear programme was not going anywhere. Sawers: we were still concerned about CW and BW. But main concern was cost of policy and vulnerability.

9.46 Lyne: how great a threat was Iraq? It was seen as a threat re wmd. How high on the list. Quite high – but there were a lot of other proliferation issues. Iraq very much up there.

9.42 Why were DfiD excluded? I didn’t exclude them. They were not central. You would have to ask others in the Cabinet Office why they were excluded if this is indeed the case. Chilcot: assuming it is very clear that they had been excluded, is this sort of thing (sanctions) not a matter on which DfiD would be lead dept? No, not lead department. They were involved in humanitarian. I don’t know that they weren’t included. Chilcot: so if Cabinet Office decided not to include DfiD, that would not be because they had asked NO 10? Sawers: I don’t recall whether DfiD should be involved was a political issue. Lyne: given that Sir Suma has raised this, you might want to look back at some of the papers!!!!!!

9.41 Post Camp David review of policy led by FCO but co-ordinated by Cabinet Office. I put ideas in. By middle of March ideas to PM.

9.40 Chilcot: was military threat to re-instate inspectors considered? No – no confidence SH would co-operate. Approach was to make existing policy more sustainable rather than to sharpen it.

9.38 Prashar asks about wmd. Sawers says weapons control and narrower sanctions (on dual use goods) included this. Also on the table was a new UN weapons inspections arrangement (UNMOVIC) agreed by UNSC but not by Saddam. Not clear whether UNMOVIC was desirable as might lead to confrontation.

9.35 Camp David February 2002 very important to Blair to get off on right foot. Did discuss Iraq – first issue discussed because Powell had to leave. Bush said he was concerned about our policy re sanctions, NFZs and vulnerable pilots. Powell set out ideas that were close to our own thinking. More targeted sanctions. Debate about NFZs. Some of Rice ideas on regime change (political ones) were discussed. Fundamental one was to narrow down sanctions. Blair agreed. Thought we should maintain control of oil revenues. Also give “information” about what post-Saddam Iraq would look like. Agreed that foreign ministers would stay in touch. Broad common ground.

9.33 Prashar asks if UK and US policy were the same, except that US was reluctant to see return of inspectors. Sawers says that happened after Camp David meeting. Bush saw UN as providing legitimacy.

9.31 Prashar says “it was high on our agenda… containment not working.” Sawers disputes that not working. Condi Rice was interested in new ideas, concerned that we should have a sustainable containment policy… threats to current policy because of unpopularity. New administration could not be seen to be easing up on Saddam. Trying to give inherited “regime change” policy some substance. Ideas re indictment of SH, support for opposition, contract with people, “information flow”. Getting rid of Milosovic was “successful regime change policy”. No discussion of invasion. US wanted to maintain right to shoot down planes if theirs were shot down.

9.30 How big an issue was Iraq for us? It was a significant issue and did feature in my discussions with Rice. We and the US were concerned that our policy was not sustainable. (Had) Wanted to contain threats. US had policy dating back to 1998 of “regime change”. We felt we needed to move to an approach where sanctions were more targeted, focused on the regime, less damage to Iraqi people. Also concerned about how the policy was perceived in the region. Also had concerns about No Fly Zones. Were introduced primarily to put end to repression in the North and South. Also southern NFZ was the defence of Kuwait. SH constantly tested – attempt to bring down aircraft early Feb. Concerned that pilots were vulnerable.

9.25 Blair already clear that UK PM needed close relationship with POTUS. I reported back that there would be policy differences between us but also a fund of goodwill and depth of foreign policy expertise in new administration.

9.24 Prashar asks what “hard-edged” means. Says that Rice had said that Clinton had talked tough but acted weakly. New administration was critical of Clinton approach to ME.

9.20 I have sound. Sawers is talking about Blair’s approach to the new George W Bush administration. Keen interest in developing greater understanding. Sawers and J Powell visited new Washington Jan 2001 before inauguration. Met Cheney, Rice… Powell met political figures. Clear that Cheney and Rice looking to take a more “realistic”, “hard-edged” approach to foreign policy, ie. more concerned with US national issues. Missile defence, climate change… Iraq. I think we came away with a sense that this was an administration that would take a hard-edged approach but would want to work closely with UK. Focus on domestic issues.

9.18 They’re off but there seems to be no sound on the feed. Can’t keep the head of MI6 waiting…

9.00 “There will be a slight delay today while technical issues are corrected.”

“What does ‘slight’ mean?”, I hear you asking…

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