by Andrew Mason
Whilst the Iraq Inquiry only has a mandate to examine matters relating to the UK’s involvement in affairs concerning Iraq during the period from the middle of 2001 to the end of July 2009, its final report will include a section to set out the wider context of the British strategy towards Iraq from 1990 to 2000. Last year’s progress update, published in the form a letter from Sir John Chilcot to David Cameron, shows this to be the case as the Inquiry then sets out, in a three-page attachment to the letter, the basic structure of the eventual report. This outline states that this part of their reporting will cover the UN framework, the strategy of containment and its effectiveness, and Iraqi responses.
I have prepared the following as a basic primer to hopefully assist Digest readers with a general understanding of some of these issues relating to Iraq policy throughout the longer time scale as mentioned above, when viewed from the perspective of the United States of America.
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by Rob Lewis
My book, Dark Actors: The Life and Death of David Kelly, was published earlier this month. It met with three early and prominent reviews, from writers who all have held very vocal positions on the matter of Kelly’s death and Iraqi WMD generally. While an author cannot begrudge such a high profile reception, these reviews contained some egregious misstatements that could cloud any serious study of our lead-up to the Iraq War, and they require some correction. This post also acts, then, as a defence of my book, but this is an inevitable corollary.
Writing for the Times, David Aaronovitch argued there is “a massive hole in my account”, to wit, that 9/11 gave both the intelligence services and Downing Street reason to fear that jihadis might acquire WMD, and this provided a sound rationale for the invasion of Iraq.
This, of course, by no dint of coincidence, echoes exactly the defence Blair gave at the Iraq Inquiry on the 29 January 2010, which makes Aaronovitch’s take the current Labour line (as it always is: both have shifted synchronously over the years).
“The crucial thing after September 11 was the calculus of risk changed,” Blair told Chilcot’s panel. “…[it] completely changed our assessment of where the risks lay… It’s a judgement we had to make. After September 11, I wasn’t willing to run that risk… it is not about a lie, a deception, a conspiracy. It is a decision. Could we take that risk? What this is all about is risk.”
Perhaps the chief problem with this line is that Blair was warned about terrorists and Iraqi WMD only once after 9/11, by no less a personage than Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, and as the Downing Street Memo shows, Dearlove warned him not that “the conjunction of terrorism and WMD” was a danger but that it was the straw man that Bush would use to justify regime change in Baghdad. It is a straw man that Blair has now adopted as his own. And considering the Joint Intelligence Committee never issued a single warning about the dangers of Iraqi WMD until it was specifically asked to by Tony Blair, whatever the spooks were worried about, it certainly wasn’t Iraq.
by Andrew Mason
Reported today in The Sunday Mail is a story concerning Sir Richard Dearlove’s continuing displeasure about Downing Street’s use of MI6 intelligence material to make the case for war.
A security source told The Mail on Sunday: “This is Sir Richard’s time-bomb. He wants to set the record straight and defend the integrity of MI6.”
“And Sir Richard has taken a lot of personal criticism over MI6’s performance and his supposedly too-cosy relationship with Mr Blair.”
“No Chief of MI6 has done anything like this before, but the events in question were unprecedented.”
“If Chilcot doesn’t put the record straight, Sir Richard will strike back.”
by Chris Ames
In May I reported that the Foreign Office was using its old delaying tactics to avoid responding to a new Freedom of Information Act request I had made. This was a request for disclosure of documents whose existence was revealed by the statement to the Inquiry of former Foreign Office press secretary John Williams. I complained to the Information Commissioner, which has now issued a decision notice requiring the Foreign Office to stop stalling and make a decision, albeit that it has given it a further 35 calendar days to comply.
By way of a recap, the documents arose from this paragraph of Williams’ statement:
I have, in preparing this statement, seen a note that I produced in March 2002, setting out ideas for a media campaign. I recall feeling it necessary to do so, though not what internal or external event prompted this. I see that our Iraq press officer, Mark Matthews, had produced a media strategy, for which I was writing a covering note.
The Foreign Office claimed that Section 27 of the FOI Act, which relates to damage to international relations, applied. It is hard to see that this applied to anything but a small element of the information requested, but the Foreign Office has ignored my request to disclose immediately the information that is not covered by the exemption. Unfortunately, the Information Commissioner has not addressed this issue.
by Andrew Mason
The Iraq Inquiry has now published an update on its work in the form of an exchange of letters dated 15 and 17 July between Sir John Chilcot and Prime Minister Cameron.
The letters can be found in electronic format (.pdf files) on the Inquiry’s website here.
From the first letter:
“That timetable also gives individuals the time to decide whether they are likely to want support from the Government and others; and for the arrangements for that support to be put in place.”
Cue the legal eagles perhaps?
by Andrew Mason
Writing in yesterday’s Guardian, Robert Lewis, the author of the newly published and first ‘proper’ biography of Dr David Kelly CMG, Dark Actors: The Life and Death of David Kelly, states that he has broken faith with the various suggestions that Dr Kelly died by any means other than of his own volition.
I don’t think Kelly ever gave an unauthorised interview in his entire life. Jones [the late Dr Brian Jones - head of the WMD analysis branch of DIS until shortly before the Iraq War and one of our most experienced, knowledgeable and important contributors here at the Digest] believed his post-Kuwait briefings were intended to manage public expectations after the invasion, and to make sure it was the government, not British intelligence, which got the blame for confecting claims about Iraqi WMD. But the political fallout was cataclysmic. Downing Street went on an unprecedented offensive, and Kelly found rattled senior spooks were turning against him. Just as politicians and mandarins were traducing his professional reputation, counter-intelligence was set to tear his private life apart. Shortly before his death his top secret clearance was revoked. It would have heralded the most intrusive investigation imaginable, and to save himself and his family from the indignity, he walked up Harrowdown Hill and reduced his security risk to zero.
by Chris Ames
The question of how attorney general Lord Goldsmith came to change his mind on the legality of the invasion at the last minute and trim the extensive and equivocal legal opinion that he drafted on 7 March 2003 to a single page of unequivocal assertion on 17 March is one that many people, including the Inquiry, have sought to get to the bottom of.
It has been claimed that Number 10, in the person of Baroness Sally Morgan and Lord Charles Falconer, put pressure on Goldsmith to drop his equivocation. Now, John Rentoul, who has reissued a biography of Tony Blair and who has previously dismissed such claims, has added to the conspiracy theory. An extract from the book published by the Independent on Sunday last weekend focuses on the events of 11 March 2003, when Goldsmith attended one or more meetings at Downing Street and was still too equivocal for Blair’s liking.
On that day, 11 March, Goldsmith told Blair “that he wished he could be much clearer in his advice, but in reality it was nuanced”. Blair “knew”, as Alastair Campbell recorded, “that if there was any nuance at all”, Robin Cook and Clare Short “would be straight out saying the advice was that it was not legal, the Attorney General was casting doubt on the legal basis for war”.
Goldsmith was persuaded, and told Straw that, “having decided to come down on one side” – that resolution 1441 was sufficient – he had also decided that in public he needed to explain his case “as strongly and unambiguously as possible”.
I’m not sure something similar wasn’t in an earlier version but, according to Rentoul, who appears to have spoken to some of the people involved, “Goldsmith was persuaded”. I put a comment on a related blog post yesterday asking him who had persuaded Goldsmith. His reply
Tony Blair, primarily, I imagine.
by Chris Ames
Yesterday’s House of Commons debate marking the 10th anniversary of the invasion was, as Caroline Lucas MP noted, a very one sided affair:
no one spoke in defence of the UK’s support for the war.
The main point that Lucas made was that, irrespective of the Iraq Inquiry, Parliament needed to take responsibility for its decision and there was enough information in the public domain at the time for it to have taken a different one. In particular, she pointed out not only that French President’s Jacques Chirac’s words about vetoing a second UN resolution were misrepresented but that this was pointed out at the time by Labour MP Lynne Jones, who was ridiculed.
Government minister Mark Simmonds used the failure of the Iraq Inquiry to report as an excuse not to make any comment on the war but promised to give an “update”. In fact, all he did was to point out that:
Those doing the inquiry have indicated that they intend to begin what is called the “criticism phase” of their work this summer. That will give individuals who may face criticism in the report the chance to make representations to the inquiry. Thereafter, the inquiry and Sir John will have to assimilate those representations into the final report. I do not have a definitive time scale for when that final report will be published, but it is essential that Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues do that work in a thorough and professional way.
All this does, if anything, is to suggest that what was previously called the ‘Maxwellisation’ process has not yet started.
There were many good and well-informed contribution. John Baron recalled the involvement of the spin doctors in the September 2002 WMD dossier and Elfyn Llwyd raised the conflict of interest of Inquiry Secretary Margaret Aldred, praising Digest contributor Chris Lamb for uncovering the issue.
Baron’s Tory colleague raised the issue of “the very sad role of Alastair Campbell interfering with John Scarlett’s report and directing British intelligence dossiers to complement US intelligence.” For me, this remains a very important but little noticed point. If Campbell and Scarlett are both told by the chief of MI6/SIS that the Americans are fixing the facts around the policy but Campbell says that they will make the dossier “one that complements rather than conflicts with them”, is that not an instruction to sex the dossier up?
Having said that, the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn comments on the debate that:
It is a pity that so much of the debate about Iraq in Britain still revolves around the “dodgy dossier” and other bits of propaganda. The US determination to go to war to overthrow Saddam Hussein predated all this and made such manoeuvres largely irrelevant.
by Chris Ames
The record of yesterday’s debate is now published on Commons Hansard. It’s worth a thorough read. For now, a couple of comments about interventions from former foreign Jack Straw, who can’t seem to resist making the same old misrepresentations.
may I say in respect of Mr Hans Blix—I have made this point outside the House—that there is a profound disconnection between what he is saying now and what he said at the time? What he said at the time, and he repeated it in a book in 2004, was that he thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat.
The obvious point, to anyone who has followed this, is that Straw is again playing on the distinction between “thought” and “claimed he knew”. Blix has made clear so many times that, whatever his gut feelings, he needed evidence and that he became less convinced as the process of inspections continued. Here is what happend when Straw floated his claim at the Inquiry in February 2010:
RT HON JACK STRAW MP: [...] A parenthetical point, Sir Lawrence, but important. Dr Blix thought that WMD were there. He said so. He said so on the record in his book.
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: He started off saying that on 20 February. He said to the Prime Minister, “Wouldn’t it be absurd and paradoxical if 250,000 troops invaded Iraq and there were no weapons of mass destruction?”
RT HON JACK STRAW MP: : But in his book which he wrote in 2004 –
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: No, that’s based on the record, and he said it was based on the record which we have seen. So he was becoming more sceptical at this stage.
RT HON JACK STRAW MP: He didn’t say so, is the answer.
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: He did say so to the Prime Minister.
by Andrew Mason
The debate, led by Green MP Caroline Lucas and tabled by the Backbench Business Committee, should be available for viewing at the BBC’s Democracy Live website shortly.