by Andrew Mason
Writing for The Mail on Sunday, Miles Goslett reports that Carne Ross, formerly the first secretary to the UK Mission at the UN with responsibility for Iraq, has now spoken out about being restricted from discussing the late Dr David Kelly CMG whilst giving evidence to the Iraq Inquiry.
A former British diplomat has revealed he was ‘warned’ by the senior civil servant running the Iraq Inquiry not to mention the late biological weapons expert Dr David Kelly when giving evidence.
Carne Ross, the UK’s Iraq expert at the UN Security Council between 1998 and 2002, said he was told by the ‘very aggressive’ official that if he discussed Dr Kelly during his testimony, he would be silenced.
It is understood the official who delivered the order was Margaret Aldred, secretary of the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot.
by Chris Ames
The BBC reports that:
A Labour backbencher has accused “dark forces” in Westminster of blocking a Commons debate marking the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war.
Paul Flynn suggested that party whips had prevented MPs discussing the “wisdom” of the war, despite strong cross-party support from backbench MPs.
Labour’s Mr Flynn was part of a group of about 30 MPs – including Green MP Caroline Lucas, Conservative backbenchers Rory Stewart and John Baron, and Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes – calling for an Iraq debate.
Mr Flynn said their proposal had been “approved by the backbench business committee, and it’s been denied by the dark forces, to try to avoid a debate on a subject which is of paramount importance”.
As well as looking backwards, it is also about learning the lessons looking forwards. I am sure that some members will want to raise issues such as the absence so far of the Chilcot inquiry and what has happened to that.
by Chris Ames
The BBC’s story on Tony Blair saying that he has no regrets over the invasion of Iraq largely concentrates on his comparison of the cost of the war in human lives, compared to what Blair thinks might have happened had Saddam have been left in power. The orignal justification for the war – Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction – doesn’t really feature, until the BBC reminds readers that:
He has insisted that, on the basis of the intelligence available at the time, it was “beyond doubt” Iraq was continuing to develop its weapons capability.
This is apparently a reference to Blair’s appearance at the Inquiry, specifically in 2010, when he justified the use of the phrase “beyond doubt”, including by reference to the September 2002 WMD dossier:
if you look at the dossier itself — and, of course, the dossier itself, if you just take the executive summary — I mean, I won’t go through and read it, but this executive summary wasn’t drawn up by me. It was drawn up by the Joint Intelligence Committee and they did it perfectly justifiably on the information they had before them.
It was a routine job of taking the strongest points and putting them in an executive summary, while taking care to reflect their content accurately, and introducing them with the sort of language that was familiar from speeches and interviews given by the PM and Foreign Secretary. [...]Some journalists have detected similarity between the shape of my effort and the finished product, but it would have been surprising if an organisation which had never produced a public document not taken some pointers from a professional.
We know that he [Saddam Hussein] has stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons
NBC TV, 3 April 2002
So Blair has justified his certainty by reference to an executive summary that was not drawn up by the JIC but by a communications official, who justified the judgements that he fabricated by reference to the language used by Blair.
by Andrew Mason
Writing for CNN, Hans Blix, at different times the former head of both the IAEA and UNMOVIC, records his enduring thoughts on the wider Iraq experience at this ten year anniversary point. Due to the special significance of his position(s) in relation to the Iraq/WMD situation over the course of at least three times this period, as well as to all future International arms monitoring, verification and inspection war-prevention mechanisms, I have taken the liberty of reproducing this piece in full.
Hans Blix: Iraq War was a terrible mistake and violation of U.N. charter
By Hans Blix, Special to CNN
(CNN) — On March 19, 2003, Iraq was invaded by an “alliance of willing states” headed by the U.S. and UK. My U.N. inspection team and I had seen it coming — and I felt an emptiness when, three days before the invasion, an American official called me to “ask” that we withdraw from the country.
While we were sad to be ushered out in the midst of a job entrusted to us by the U.N. Security Council — one that we were doing well — there was a certain relief in knowing we had all made it out safely. We had worried that our inspectors might be taken hostage, but as it turned out the Iraqis had been very helpful during our time there.
So it was that a few hundred unarmed U.N. inspectors left Iraq, to be replaced by hundreds of thousands of soldiers who began an occupation that would have a horrendous cost in lives, suffering and resources.
I headed the U.N. inspections in Iraq at the time of the war 10 years ago. Today, I look again at the reasons why this terrible mistake — and violation of the U.N. charter — took place and explore if any lessons be drawn. Here are my thoughts.
Read the rest of this entry »
by Chris Ames
Tonight’s Panorama (BBC1 10.35 ) takes another look at the way that “key aspects of the secret intelligence used by Downing Street and the White House to justify the invasion were based on fabrication, wishful thinking and lies. ”
A lot of the stories about the dodgy sources, including the notorious 45 minutes claim, will be familiar to people who have followed the story closely, including reports that two sources, very highly placed within the Iraqi regime, told Western intelligence services in the months before the war that Iraq had no WMD, or very little. But what is new and very, very important is a claim from Lord Butler, whose 2004 review of intelligence included Sir John Chilcot, that he was not told about either of these sources, or what they said.
Butler told the programme’s presenter, Peter Taylor, that although his review was given paperwork about SIS/MI6′s meetings with Tahir Habbush, in which Habbush told SIS that Saddam did not have any WMD, it was not pointed out to him. During the interview, it also became clear that Butler had not either been told that Naji Sabri, Iraq’s foreign minister, had given similar information to the CIA in September 2002. He told Taylor: “If SIS was aware of it, we should have been informed.”
It’s a complicated story and it’s not clear whether SIS or Butler should take most blame for the Habbush issue. What is clear is that the revelation that the Butler review was not aware of and did not therefore take into account two significant sources who told the US and UK what turned out to be the truth about Iraq’s non-existent WMD is another blow to Butler’s inquiry and to establishment inquiries in general. For the public to have confidence in this type of inquiry, we have to believe that inquiries will be told what happened and that their reports will reflect what they have been told. With the Iraq Inquiry struggling to get permission to publish what it has found out, it’s not clear how we can be sure that we have been told the whole truth, or just an edited version of the truth.
The programme also features contributions from the late Dr Brian Jones, a founding contributor to the Digest, who died a year ago.
Footnote: the Digest covers this issue here.
by Chris Ames
The Guardian again steps into the vacuum left be the absence of a report from the Inquiry as the 10th anniversary approaches. As part of the paper’s Iraq war: 10 years on strand, my collegue Richard Norton-Taylor reports that:
Though they direct their fire principally at the Bush administration, they make clear the Blair government must share a lot of the blame.
by Chris Ames
In the Sunday Mirror, former deputy prime minister John Prescott expands on his recent statement that he can no longer justify the invasion of Iraq. He goes further, making clear that he now realises that it was about regime change after all:
My support for action in Iraq was justified by certain conditions, as Tony agreed.
The first was that any agreement to go to war had to be backed by UN resolutions.
Secondly, I wanted to make sure that it was not about regime change. Saddam needed to observe the previous 17 UN resolutions on his development of WMD.
Thirdly, Bush had to give an agreement to implement a road map for a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories.
And finally, our own Parliament had to back military action.
But parliamentary backing was all we got.
So Prescott no longer believes that the invasion was backed by UN resolutions, no longer believes that “it was not about regime change”, and realises that any belief that the Bush adminstration might take action on Israel/Palestine was wishful thinking at best.
It appears that Prescott’s view of what Blair was trying to achieve has been influenced by Blair’s recent statements, possibly including what he said at the Inquiry but also his continuing justification of regime change on the basis of recent events, including the Arab Spring. This is the problem for Blair. The more he makes clear that no solution that left Saddam in place would have been acceptable to him, the more he makes clear that he was seeking regime change all along.
by Chris Ames
The Huffington Post reports that:
The government has infuriated MPs by appearing to block a Commons debate on the anniversary of the Iraq War.
The group has written a strongly-worded letter to parliamentary authorities, saying the public has a right to hear from MPs on the controversial decision to invade in March 2003.
MPs including the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, Conservative Rory Stewart – who served as the British deputy governor of southern Iraq, and Labour’s Paul Flynn, said it pitched for a parliamentary debate via the backbench business committee.
But although it was agreed in principle, the government has refused to make the necessary time available, the group said.
Previously, leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley, to whom the letter was sent, has suggested that any debate should await the eventual publication of the Iraq Inquiry report.
But Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said:
Whatever position this Government takes on Iraq and the Chilcot Inquiry, to be published later this year, it is critical that the public does not see Parliament just sitting back and ignoring this 10-year anniversary milestone.
by Chris Ames
My colleague Richard Norton-Taylor reports
The long-delayed Chilcot inquiry report will be published without crucial evidence that would reveal what Tony Blair promised President George Bush in the runup to the invasion of Iraq 10 years ago, Whitehall sources have indicated to the Guardian.
Aside from this very depressing introduction, the story is mostly a recap of what we already know, although it does add rather depressingly that:
Whitehall sources make it clear that Downing Street intends to keep tight control over the manner in which the final report is published.
by Chris Ames
The Sunday Telegraph has put together three different angles for its lead story today Iraq War: major new questions for Tony Blair. But how much of this is new? A lot of it seems like familiar ground to those people who have followed what the Inquiry has thrown up and what has been reported elsewhere.
The three elements of the story are criticism of Blair from former Washington ambassador Christopher Meyer; statements from former members of the Bush administration saying that Blair did not lay down conditions for British participation in the invasion; and criticism of Blair from “military chiefs” for a lack or preparation for the aftermath.
The main point that Meyer makes in an article for the paper headed ‘I’m with you whatever’, Tony Blair told George Bush is that
He has always argued that, by keeping close to Mr Bush, he was able to influence him. But for Mr Blair the “special relationship” became an end in itself, leading him to tell Mr Bush that, whatever he decided, he would have Mr Blair’s support. This was tantamount to sub-contracting to Mr Bush the decision to invade Iraq.
The failure to plan meticulously for Saddam’s aftermath led to almost a decade of violent chaos and the ultimate humiliation of British forces. Mr Blair’s unquestioning support for Mr Bush eliminated what should have been salutary British influence over American decision-making.
This is something that Meyer and others have said before, including the claim that Blair gave an unconditional promise that Britain would take part in any US-led invasion. In fact, Meyer is expressly cited as a source for the report that Blair told Bush in July 2002, “Whatever you decide to do, I’m with you.” In his article, Meyer also confirms that he does not know to what extent Blair made a commitment at Crawford in April 2002, which is what he told the Iraq Inquiry.
On the theme of whether Blair gave conditional or unconditional support, the main article, by the paper’s US editor Philip Sherwell, says that
… senior Bush White House staff confirmed for the first time to The Sunday Telegraph that they had viewed it as a certainty that Mr Blair would back any US-led invasion, long before he publicly committed Britain to taking part.
They say he made clear his unwavering support for US policy nearly a year before the invasion, after a visit to the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
This appears to contradict Downing Street’s assertion at the time that Britain would intervene militarily against the Iraqi dictator only if all other avenues, including weapons inspections and United Nations sanctions, had been exhausted.
This does indeed contradict that assertion, but so does Meyer’s account and Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff has said this before, also to Rawnsley. Sherwell also says:
The statement by former White House officials that Mr Blair laid down no conditions for British support for the US-led operation comes despite Downing Street assertions to the contrary.
But this forgets that Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell told the Inquiry:
I think, thinking of them in terms of conditions is the wrong way to look at it. We weren’t trying to say, “If you tick off all these boxes, then we will be with you”. We were saying, “We are with you, in terms of what you are trying to do, but this is the sensible way to do it. We are offering you a partnership to try and get to a wide coalition”.
But being with the Americans didn’t necessarily mean going to war. The Prime Minister said repeatedly to President Bush that if Saddam complied with the UN Resolutions, then there would not be any invasion and President Bush agreed with him on that.
Powell is right here that discussion of conditions misses the point. But his claim that “being with the Americans didn’t necessarily mean war” is an attempt to mislead the Inquiry and susceptible to Meyer’s criticism that Blair sub-contracted the decision to Bush. Blair did not tell Bush that if Saddam complied with UN resolutions there would not be any invasion. It wasn’t his call. That’s the point.
The other element of the Telegraph package is a series of articles in which military chiefs and some less senior former servicemen recount their experience, with some of the same themes coming up: lack of preparedness and shortage of funding. They include General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff during the war, and Major General Graham Binns. Both gave evidence to the Inquiry.