Bitterness and death in Baghdad

by Chris Ames

It’s been pointed out before, not least by Iraq Body Count, that the Inquiry has not seemed that concerned with asking how many people died as a result of the invasion of Iraq, whose conequences are continuing.

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, reporting from Baghdad, where a recent massacre killed at least 165 people, doesn’t think many people there will take much interest in the Inquiry’s outcome but does find a lot of bitterness towards Tony Blair and George Bush:

A chain of consequences that leads back to the invasion of 2003 caused Iraq’s perpetual war.

The Americans and Britain removed a hated dictator, and dissolved his army and state. But they had no real plan to rebuild the country they had broken. They improvised – and made matters worse.

Jihadists were not in Iraq before the invasion. Shia and Sunni Muslims, whose sectarian civil war started during the occupation, could co-exist.

The invaders did not have enough troops to control Iraq. Jihadists poured across open borders. Al-Qaeda established itself here, and eventually was reborn as so-called Islamic State.

Iraqis have often made matters worse for themselves, but it was mistakes by the US and Britain that pushed Iraq down the road to catastrophe.

Meanwhile, the Guardian has a couple of articles looking forward to the report tomorrow. A lengthy and thoughtful one from Andy Beckett includes a few comments from me while a rather pointless piece from Steve Richards tells us that we’ve all got it wrong and that Blair was just trying to keep close to Bush and used the issue of WMD as a pretext, to try to achieve UN cover.

Well, who’d have thought it?


Butler, Blair and inexplicable inconsistency

by Chris Ames

In 2007, Lord Robin Butler, who conducted a previous inquiry into Iraq. with Sir John Chilcot as a sidekick, said the following in the House of Lords:

I have also always accepted and continue to accept that the Prime Minister sincerely believed that Saddam possessed such weapons and was bent on acquiring more. Our intelligence community believed that, as did other countries’ intelligence communities, as well as Hans Blix when he first took UN observers back into Iraq. But here was the rub: neither the United Kingdom nor the United States had the intelligence that proved conclusively that Iraq had those weapons. The Prime Minister was disingenuous about that. The United Kingdom intelligence community told him on 23 August 2002 that,

    “we … know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1988”.

The Prime Minister did not tell us that. Indeed, he told Parliament only just over a month later that the picture painted by our intelligence services was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”. Those words could simply not have been justified by the material that the intelligence community provided to him.

Bizarrely, his lordship said today:

Tony Blair really believed there were WMD as did most of the intelligence agencies in the world.

He wanted to be in helping the US because he thought Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person to the world and to the Middle East and the world would be better off without him.

My criticism of him was the way in which he reported the intelligence. He exaggerated the reliability of the intelligence…he was trying to persuade the UN and the world that there was a proper legal basis for taking military action.

In the fact the Joint Intelligence Committee had said to him that the intelligence was sporadic and patchy. He said to the House of Commons that it was extensive, detailed and authoritative.

That was where the inconsistency lay. I don’t call that a lie. He may well have thought it was extensive, detailed and authoritative but it wasn’t.

Butler’s own inconsistency is inexplicable but a reminder that the heads of establishment inquiries, whose judgements we are supposed to treat as definitive, can sometimes reach some random and arbitrary conclusions.


Helm’s isn’t the whole story

 

by Piers Robinson

Is Sarah Helm’s revelation in the Guardian and previously her play misleading?

The revelation  from the wife of Jonathan Powell, Blair’s advisor, paints a picture of Blair wanting to defy Bush, but ultimately not having the guts to stand up to him.

But the issue being discussed in the article is whether or not Blair could persuade Bush to wait for a 2nd Resolution, not whether Blair could persuade Bush not to go to war.

As such the piece seems to give a misleading impression that Blair was at least trying to defy Bush when, in fact, much of the evidence shows Blair was already set on to support regime change and war (see e.g. http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/…/Blair-to-Powell-17March2002…).



Speculation and spin

By Chris Ames

I’m not sure what to make of the Mirror’s story today about MI6/spy chiefs being “fed to the wolves”. It looks like it’s been written by someone who doesn’t understand what he’s been told, a bit like the notorious 45 minute claim.

What you can’t tell from the story is how much the blame will not be apportioned to the “spy chiefs” who supplied the intelligence and how much will not be apportioned to the people who misrepresented it.

Meanwhile Blair fan John Rentoul seems prepared to admit that the former PM will get some stick from the Inquiry but will not be found to have lied. Rentoul takes the rather comical position that the evidence on the basis of which you can predict the conclusions of an inquiry is the verbal evidence of the establishment witnesses it calls, i.e. the people in the frame. Still, that was indeed Lord Hutton’s approach.

For the Observer, my colleague Jamie Doward has some comments from international lawyer Philippe Sands, who points out that the Inquiry is hamstrung in only being able to publish one half of some key evidence.

“Has it fairly and accurately summarised the exchanges between Mr Blair and President Bush and the meetings that took place between them?” Sands asked. “That gives us an insight into whether or not the material has been fairly and accurately interpreted by the Chilcot inquiry.”

 


Panorama’s ‘Final Judgement’

by Andrew Mason

Tonight at 21.00:

Iraq: The Final Judgement

As the country awaits next week’s verdict from the long-delayed Iraq Inquiry into why we went to war and what the lessons should be, Jane Corbin returns to southern Iraq. With her are parents who lost a son, a soldier there and the general who led British troops into battle. Why did it all go so wrong?

And on iPlayer thereafter for 12 months – link here.


Inquiry to publish Scarlett “nuggets of gold” email

by Chris Ames

First the good news. The Cabinet Office has told me that the Inquiry will publish the notorious email that the then Joint Intelligence Committee chairman, John Scarlett, sent the head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) as it failed to find weapons of mass destruction in post-invasion Iraq.

But the bad news is that the Cabinet Office has used this as an excuse not to release (most of) the email under the Freedom of Information Act, even though it knows (and has been told by the Information Commissioner) that it cannot use this excuse, given that the intention to publish followed by FOI request.

As Digest contributor Rod Barton sets out here, Scarlett’s email in March 2004 was an attempt to sex up the ISG’s Status Report, to cover the UK government’s embarrassment.

If it doesn’t get lost in the rest of the report, disclosure of the Scarlett email will be a major scandal, albeit that Scarlett is likely to get a lot of stick for the government’s misuse of shaky intelligence in the September 2002 Iraq dossier and has already been discredited for trying to sex up the dossier the first time round.

The Cabinet Office should be given credit for admitting that some of the exemptions that it applied, relating to national security and international relations, cannot be applied over a decade on, although it says that the FOI Act Section 23 exemption relating to security bodies still applies to some information.

That isn’t stopping the Inquiry publishing the full memo. However, the Cabinet Office says that a “subsequent” request from the Inquiry, to which it agreed, means that the document is “therefore exempt under s22” of the Act.

More bizarrely, the Information Commissioner has gone further than the Cabinet Office in assessing that the whole document is exempt under s23.

The Information Commissioner: finding new ways to restrict the public’s access to information.


Preparing to debate the report

By Chris Ames

The Guardian reports that:

The Liberal Democrats, who opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, will try to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from dominating the anti-war side of the argument in the wake of publication of the Chilcot report next month by calling for a two-day Commons debate about the inquiry.

As it’s Patrick Wintour, there is more from Tony Blair’s supporters.

Behind the scenes in the Labour party, efforts are under way to reconcile Tony Blair’s determination to defend his decision to go to war with Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding view that the war was illegal. Some senior shadow cabinet figures are trying to broker a compromise that allows both Blair and Corbyn to state their strongly held positions without starting a political civil war.

And, somewhat bizarrely, Wintour adds:

It is expected that the report will be extremely critical of the role of the then head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, and will examine claims that he became too close to Blair and too eager to believe intelligence that Saddam Hussein retained chemical weapons capability. Dearlove has defended himself by arguing that many senior figures in the Saddam regime believed it retained weapons of mass destruction.

It’s not clear where this fits into the story and whether it’s new information or a random piece of speculation.

 


The Chilcot Report – An end to smoke and mirrors?

Piers Robinson

​​​Of the many issues that the Inquiry is expected to report on, the issue of deception and its role in paving the road to war in Iraq is the most longstanding and controversial.

Shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Andrew Gilligan reported suggestions by the UK’s leading biological weapons expert, Dr David Kelly, that intelligence had been manipulated for political purposes.

Across the Atlantic, Ambassador Joseph Wilson made similar claims regarding the US government. Since then the idea that people were deceived or lied to by the Bush and Blair administrations in order to mobilise support for war has been widespread and persistent.

This should be of little surprise. The multiple and changing justifications for war, coupled with the failure to find any usable weapons of mass destruction (WMD) within Iraq, has led perhaps most of the British and American public to believe they were misled.

Moreover, democracies are not supposed to go to war based on lies and, in legal terms, unprovoked aggression is a most serious crime. The casualty toll from the Iraq war and its aftermath is horrific with some estimates putting the number of dead around the million mark. The stakes are very high. Readmore..


Blair’s unbelievable arrogance

by Chris Ames

When Tony Blair was in power, he had people like Alastair Campbell in No 10 and people like the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour to spin for him. It’s no surprise that he turns to Wintour now to help spin his defence.

When Wintour claims in the Guardian that:

Tony Blair is expected to defend his decision to join in the invasion of Iraq by asking his critics to think through the consequences for stability in the Middle East had Saddam Hussein been left in power, capable of developing weapons of mass destruction.

In the wake of the publication of the Chilcot inquiry report, friends of the former prime minister believe he will argue that the ultimate cause of the long-term bloodshed in Iraq was the scale of external intervention in the country by Iran and al-Qaida rather than failures in post-conflict planning.

neither of them are fooling any of us. It is Blair who is spinning.

In inviting us to look at the consequences of leaving Saddam in power, he conveniently forgets that he said:

I detest his regime – but even now he could save it by complying with the UN’s demands.

Astonishingly, Blair also seems to want to tell us what lessons we should be learning.

What I think is a shame is that the Inquiry didn’t ask Blair along a couple of times to make his case ad nauseam and perhaps send him its findings in advance to he could argue with them.