Hague hopes for report before the election

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, October 16, 2014

by Chris Ames

The BBC reports that

William Hague has said he “hopes” the Iraq Inquiry report will be published before the 2015 general election.

Hague was speaking as leader of the House of Commons  and reminded people that as shadow foreign secretary he led debates calling for an Iraq inquiry, which the Labour government resisted for as long as it could. Hague pointed out that it would all be over by now without the delay setting it up.

Filed in Issues, Opinion, Process

Iraq’s “hidden’” chemical weapons

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Wednesday, October 15, 2014

by Chris Ames

The New York Times reports that:

From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule.

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The NYT story focuses on the US Government’s alleged concealment of these discoveries and injuries as well as the fear that remaining chemical agents may have fallen into the hands of IS/ISIS.

Interestingly, the 2004 report of the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group said that

While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad’s desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.

Just one of many ironies in this story.

Filed in Secrecy

Miliband: Let’s learn the lessons of Iraq

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Wednesday, September 24, 2014

By Chris Ames

Twelve years to the day since Tony Blair (reluctantly) recalled Parliament to present the Iraq wmd dossier, it looks as if Parliament may again be recalled to discuss UK military action in Iraq.

We may have to wait for a decision from Ed Miliband though. Miliband told Sky News this morning:

Miliband said in a series of media interviews today that he’s “open” to British action in Iraq, though he wants a UN Security Council resolution before considering supporting U.K. bombing raids over Syria.

“We’ve got to do it in the right way, let’s learn the lessons of the Iraq war,” Miliband told Sky News television. “We’ve got a democratic state in Iraq that has asked for help, if that ask were to come to us I’d have to look very seriously at that possibility — the situation in Syria is more complex.”

As the Inquiry still hasn’t reported, we don’t know what the lessons of the Iraq war are. If doing it “in the right way” means getting a UN Security Council resolution, isn’t that what Blair claimed to have?

Filed in Legality

Report in February, Fox says

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Monday, September 22, 2014

by Chris Ames

Writing for The Week, the highly respected veteran defence writer Robert Fox says that:

After much wrangling about what can and cannot be published of the personal correspondence between Tony Blair and George W Bush, I understand the report of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War will at last be released in February 2015.

The gist of Fox’s article is that proximity to the general election will not prevent publication of the report but that:
To bring the Chilcot report into play when it cannot be seriously debated politically just ahead of the general election may be part of a cunning plan to justify Cameron’s increasingly neo-isolationist stance.

This of course contrasts with Tony Blair’s position, as reported by the Telegraph:

Tony Blair has said that politicians should heed his advice that British boots on the ground in Iraq should not be ruled out because he had experience of taking Britain to war in that country.

The former Prime Minister said people should “appreciate” that he has learnt lessons through going to war in Iraq and listen to his thoughts on tackling Islamic State because they are “precisely” the same terrorist forces he battled during the conflict.

Filed in Coverage, Process

Delay upon delay upon delay

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Sunday, September 14, 2014

by Chris Ames

The Independent reports that:

The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war is still making fresh requests for the release of classified government papers, suggesting that its report is unlikely to be published before the general election.

Government sources say Sir John Chilcot and his team are still filing a “steady stream” of requests asking civil servants to declassify documents that he wants to quote in his report – meaning it is still being written.

While there is an element of speculation here, the absolutely concrete aspect of the story is that:

A spokesman for the inquiry confirmed yesterday that the process of Maxwellisation, whereby Sir John will warn those he intends to criticise, has not started.

We are back to wondering whether the issue of getting clearance to publish certain documents was a smokescreen for the Inquiry’s own inability to complete the report. It’s not clear whose speculation, or excuse, this is…

One senior source suggested the inquiry chairman may also be having to balance the views of different members of his panel which may be contributing to the delay.

… but it is potentially worrying. The Butler Inquiry pulled its punches because Tony Blair planted Ann Taylor on the panel and she argued strongly for its report to be watered down. We should not forget of course that all members of the Inquiry were appointed by the Labour government.


Filed in Coverage

No cover-up, says Blair aide

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Tuesday, September 9, 2014

By Chris Ames

The BBC reports Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood’s appearance before the Commons Public Administration Committee.

 The Iraq Inquiry report will “not be a cover-up in any shape or form”, the UK’s top civil servant has insisted.

Sir Jeremy Heywood told MPs that the report would be “more transparent” than people were expecting and would include material that would not normally be disclosed “in a million years”.

But then Heywood, who was Tony Blair’s Principal Private Secretary at the time of the invasion, tried to play down the extent to which disagreement over what could be published has delayed the report so perhaps we are back to, well he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Filed in Uncategorized

Concealment upon concealment upon concealment

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, August 7, 2014

by Chris Ames

I wrote on Monday about the Foreign Office’s refusal to release documents I had identified and requested under the Freedom of Information Act, on the grounds the the Iraq Inquiry will publish them, eventually. Looking at the documents and the context, you can see why the Inquiry thinks they are significant.

What we know is that there was a Cabinet meeting on 7 March 2002, where Iraq was discussed but Jack Straw and Tony Blair conspired to hide from most of the rest of the Cabinet the various papers that had been commissioned from the Cabinet Office to define policy on Iraq. The key document was the Cabinet Office Options Paper, of which Straw told the Inquiry in a statement:

I almost certainly discussed this document with the Prime Minister, if not the document itself specifically, then all the issues in it were then part of the current debate about Iraq.

The question that Straw ducked was why, if this document contained all the issues that were then part of the current debate about Iraq, they hid it from the Cabinet. The answer is of course that this was exactly why they concealed the document: they wanted to hide their true policy.

At this time, the Cabinet Office, in the form of the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments staff, chairman John Scarlett and assessmments staff Julian Miller and his deputy Jane Hamilton Eddy, were preparing an early version of what became the September 2002 WMD dossier. A previous FOI release around that document includes an extract from a memo on 11 March 2002 from Simon MacDonald, Straw’s principal private secretary, to Peter Ricketts, political director at the Foreign Office:

Thank you for your minute of 8 March covering the draft non-JIC papers for the Prime Minister’s use at Crawford next month. The Foreign Secretary would like (as you suggest) an office meeting later this week or next week to discuss all this. The Diary Secretary will be in touch.

Straw appeared to refer to this memo in the continuation of his statement concerning the Options paper:

Within the FCO internally, the document was discussed. A note from my Private Secretary to Peter Ricketts, the Political Director, on the 11 March 2002, for instance, sought extra detail on a number of areas discussed in the paper.

I asked for the whole memo (or memos) of 11 March, the “minute of 8 March” and any note of the subsequent office meeting. The FCO has said that it cannot find the minute of 8 March, which is careless to say the least. It may merely be a covering memo or it may include comments from Ricketts. The questions that MacDonald asked on behalf of Straw and the note of the meeting are likely to be illuminating. The story appears to be that Straw was sceptical of Blair’s approach. To return to the issue of Straw not actually asking the questions that he was asked:

Q2) Discussion with the Americans
When asked about the events of March and July 2002, Jonathan Powell told the Inquiry that you were “arguing for alternative options…I think he was thinking about particularly politically, and the domestic political differences that it would cause in the Parliamentary Labour Party and more generally” (page 69).
a) What was your assessment of whether the policy being pursued by the Prime Minister was sustainable domestically?
b) What risks did that present for the strategy being pursued? How did you understand those risks were being managed?
2.1 The strategy of the Prime Minister had obvious risks, for him and his Administration. Managing these risks was one of the many pre-occupations for me, as it was for the Prime Minister.
2.2 Crucial in my view to managing the risks was a) a new resolution from the UNSC, b) a clear undertaking that any decision on UK involvement in military action would require the explicit approval by substantive resolution of the House of Commons.

This is typical evasive Straw. Note that he didn’t actually answer the first question. To some extent the answer is here.

Filed in Uncategorized

The Inquiry is the obstacle to disclosure

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Monday, August 4, 2014

by Chris Ames

As I have pointed out on many occasions, for all John Chilcot’s huffing and puffing about what it will be allowed to publish when it eventually releases its report, the Iraq Inquiry is in fact sitting on a large pile of documents which it has asked to publish and is allowed to publish but wants to be able to put its own interpretation on. What makes this worse is that documents that would in other circumstances be released under the Freedom of Information Act are now being withheld because the Inquiry plans to publish them at some point in the future.

In posts here and here, I discussed the way that Tony Blair and Jack Straw conspired to hide the hugely important Cabinet Office Iraq Options paper from most of the Cabinet while giving them a piece of propaganda to look at. I made an FOI request for some of the internal correspondence around this. Surprise, surprise, the Foreign Office has declined to release it on the ground that it is intended that the Inquiry will publish it.

The exemption under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act recognises that it must be reasonable in all circumstances to withhold the information until the date of publication. These documents have been requested for publication by the Iraq Inquiry and I can confirm that it is intended that they will issue as part of its final Report. The Inquiry, which was set up in June 2009, has taken extensive evidence from Departments and witnesses over the last five years and has now entered its concluding phase. Given the necessary preparation and administration involved in publishing the information, we consider that our publication timetable is reasonable.

Interestingly, this is I think the first time that the government has identified specific documents that have (implicitly, I think) been cleared for publication but which neither the government nor the Inquiry will publish. The government has previously hidden the identities of the documents that the Inquiry is sitting on, again on the grounds that we will find out eventually. Speaking of eventually, the word “timetable” is a bit strong here, as it relates to the antipated publication of the Inquiry report. But the main point is that, once again, the Inquiry is not the means by which we find out what happened around Iraq but the means by which we are prevented from finding out.

I will write later about the significance of the documents themselves. There is also one, by the way, that the Foreign Office has not been able to find. The Inquiry may believe that when it has not been given a document, it is more incompetence than concealment. I’m a bit more cynical.

Filed in Process, Uncategorized

“Everything he wants to publish”

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, July 17, 2014

by Chris Ames

According to the Financial Times:

Sir Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary, told a parliamentary committee on Thursday that Sir John Chilcot had written to him recently to say “he will be able to publish everything he wants to publish”.

Heywood was appearing before the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. It seems the rest of what he said was a lot of yes but, no but:

“My starting point for this is I would like to publish everything that the Chilcot inquiry would like to publish. I start from a presumption of maximum transparency.”

He acknowledged this approach conflicted with “longstanding conventions about the publication of documents”, including Cabinet minutes and details of conversations between the then-prime minister Tony Blair and US president George Bush “that one would not normally dream of . . . becoming public for a variety of very strong reasons”.

Discussions had been undertaken with legal advisers, the Foreign Office and the US in considering which could be made public, he added.

Highlighting transatlantic sensitivities, Sir Jeremy added that he wanted to publish “the maximum possible without destroying our relationship with the US [and] without revealing secrets that don’t need to be revealed”.

If you are thinking, well he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Asked by Paul Flynn, a Labour MP and longstanding critic of the Iraq war, whether his previous close working relationship with Mr Blair had influenced his decision about which documents to publish, he insisted it had “nothing to do with my loyalty to a previous prime minister”.

Filed in Process, Secrecy

Straw’s deceit in his own words

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Monday, July 7, 2014

by Chris Ames

In a post yesterday, I pointed out that Jack Straw had, in a statement to the Inquiry, avoided explaining why he conspired with Tony Blair to give Cabinet colleagues a piece of propaganda but not the Cabinet Office Options paper, which explained how regime change in Iraq could be secured via “the UN route”.

h) Why did you think it important that the policy should be circulation to Cabinet members but you did not submit a formal paper on Iraq policy?
1.26 I was aware that Iraq was down to be discussed in Cabinet on Thursday 7th March 2002 and I therefore forwarded them the brief.
1.27 I felt the brief would be helpful for fellow ministers in preparation for discussion of the topic in Cabinet.

It’s worth just comparing and contrasting what Straw said about the two papers in the same statement. He said this about the document drawn up to “brief” the Parliamentary Labour Party:

If anything it made the case for UN action and the return of UN inspectors, it was never intended to make the case for war.

And said this about the Cabinet Office Options paper:

I almost certainly discussed this document with the Prime Minister, if not the document itself specifically, then all the issues in it were then part of the current debate about Iraq.

By way of a quick recap, the Options paper explains how regime change is illegal in itself but can be achieved and justified by obtaining UN cover:

33 In sum, despite the considerable difficulties, the use of overridng force in a ground campaign is the only option that we can be confident will remove Saddam and bring Iraq back into the international community.
34 To launch such a campaign would require a staged approach:
* winding up the pressure: increasing the pressure on Saddam through tougher containment. Stricter implementation of sanctions and a military build-up will frighten his regime. A refusal to admit N inspectors, or their admission and subsequent likely frustration, which resulted in an appropriate finding by the Security Council could provide the justification for military action. Saddam would try to prevent this, although he has miscalculated beofre [sic];

So rather than tell the Cabinet that “the UN route” was a way of achieving regime change, Straw arranged for them to be given a document that “made the case for UN action and the return of UN inspectors, it was never intended to make the case for war.” That essentially is the deception for which former Cabinet Secretaries have criticised Blair and which is likely to be a major part of the Inquiry’s findings.

In his evidence to the Inquiry, former UK Washington ambassador Christopher Meyer made clear that Blair and Straw were on the same page:

It is not as if the British Government was speaking with a forked tongue, that the Foreign Office was sending out one set of instructions and Number 10 another, I think the attitude of Downing Street on this was this: it was a fact that there was a thing such as the Iraq Liberation Act. It was a fact that 9/11 had  happened and it was a complete waste of time, therefore,  in those circumstances, if we were going to be able to work with the Americans, to come to them and say any longer — and bang away about regime change and say, “We can’t support it”, and the way I think the attempt was  made to square the circle of supporting something to  which the Foreign Office, and maybe other lawyers objected, was actually so to wrap it, so to contextualise it, that regime change, if and when it happened, would be with the benefit of the support of the international community in the framework of UN action, quite possibly through a Security Council Resolution.

What I still find astonishing is that even though the Options paper sets out quite clearly that the UN route is the route to achieving regime change and explicitly rejects the idea of using it to toughen containment and thereby achieve disarmament, people like Straw continue to insult our intelligence. From the beginning of the Inquiry, people like Straw, David Manning and other officials have played a game of the emperor’s new clothes with the Inquiry, daring them to look a documents like the Options paper and reject their utterly transparent sophistry.

In the meantime, Blair can apparently no longer be bothered pretending it was ever about anything other than regime change.

Filed in Uncategorized