“I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed”
(General Hussein Kamel, son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, 22 August 1995)
Clare Short suggested that Tony Blair thought it was honourable to back the US in taking military action against Iraq and that therefore he saw the various ruses and devices he used to get us there as “honourable deception”.
She was the second witness to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry into whether the Government presented “accurate and complete information to Parliament in the period leading up to military action in Iraq, particularly in relation to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction”.
The first witness was Robin Cook, who proffered the alternative view that “the problem was the burning sincerity and conviction of those who were involved in the exercise”.
We incline to the latter view: that Blair sincerely believed that he was doing right thing in taking Britain to war against Iraq alongside the US, and that he sincerely believed everything he said in pursuit of that goal, at the time he said it, whether it was true or not. Indeed, he seems capable of believing contrary things at the same time with equal sincerity.
Be that as it may, it doesn’t take a Select Committee inquiry, merely a passing interest in the issue, to prove that the Government did not present “accurate and complete information” to Parliament and the public in the lead up the war.
And the inaccuracies were not of the trivial kind, which has dominated the Committee’s proceedings up to now. The Committee appears to be obsessed with investigating whether somebody in Downing Street drew unwarranted conclusions from intelligence information and forced the inclusion, in the Government dossier published last September, of the claim that:
“Some of these [chemical and biological] weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them.”
This dossier made extravagant claims that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, and the means of delivering them (and had re-established the means of manufacturing chemical and biological agents). If Iraq had retained these weapons, it would be very strange indeed if it hadn’t plans to deploy them, that is, for example, to transport filled shells from a bunker to an artillery piece so that they could be fired, and to do so within a short period.
In other words, the sentence whose origin has generated so much heat is a bit more significant than the statement that night follows day, but not much.
In any case, the dossier published last September is a Government document, with a foreword by the Prime Minister himself. It doesn’t matter a damn who wrote what bits of it – the Government published it, and the Government is therefore responsible for every word in it, no matter who wrote it, be it Alistair Campbell, or the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, or JK Rowling.
What can be said without fear of contradiction is that the authors gave the Government what it wanted: a casus belli.
The dossier itself is at times opaque, and it even contains errors of fact. But it is what it doesn’t tell us, and what the Government didn’t tell us in the lead up to war, that is most significant. Here, we are not talking about the Government making exaggerated claims from secret intelligence information: we are talking about matters that are wholly in the public domain.
Examples of the Government’s failure to give “accurate and complete information” are:
1. The failure to mention that Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, told UNSCOM in 1995 that he had ordered the destruction of all of Iraq’s proscribed weapons;
2. The distortion of UN findings that that weapons were “unaccounted for" to imply (or say) that they actually existed;
3. The failure to mention that many of Iraq’s chemical and biological agents would by now be useless as warfare agents, if they hadn’t already been destroyed;
4. The failure to tell the public that UN inspectors had invalidated many of the claims in the dossier;
5. The gross distortion of Hans Blix’s report of 6 March 2003, entitled Unresolved Disarmament Issues, to give the public the impression that there were many of them;
6. The blatant lie told that President Chirac said on 10 March 2003 that France would never support military action, when in fact he said the opposite.
Last September’s dossier is said to be the most important Government publication in a generation, and many high-powered people in the intelligence services read it, not to mention the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, last and definitely not least, Alistair Campbell. Nevertheless, it was published with at least two errors of fact in it. Not intelligence assessments that are arguably wrong, but facts that are definitely wrong.
Both errors are in Part 2 of the document, entitled History of UN Weapons Inspections. First, on page 34, paragraph 5, on UNSCOM access to presidential sites:
“In December 1997 [the head of UNSCOM] Richard Butler reported to the UN Security Council that Iraq had created a new category of sites, ‘Presidential’ and ‘sovereign’, from which it claimed that UNSCOM inspectors would henceforth be barred. The terms of the ceasefire in 1991 foresaw no such limitation. However, Iraq consistently refused to allow UNSCOM inspectors access to any of these eight Presidential sites. Many of these so-called ‘palaces’ are in fact large compounds, which are an integral part of Iraqi counter-measures designed to hide weapons material.”
If you go to the UNSCOM website and look at a report by Charles Duelfer in document S/1998/326, you will read:
“The initial entry to the eight presidential sites in Iraq … was performed by mission UNSCOM 243 during the period from 25 March to 4 April 1998.”
In other words, contrary to what the dossier says, access was allowed to all 8 sites. This was confirmed by the Foreign Office in a written answer to Paul Flynn MP on 4 February 2003:
“Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether UNSCOM 243 entered Iraqi presidential palaces between March and April 1998. 
“Mr. Mike O'Brien: Yes.”
This error is of some importance, since the alleged exclusion of the inspectors from these sites gives credence to the view that Iraq was hiding something there that it didn't want inspectors to see. To reinforce this proposition, the next page of the dossier contains a map of an unnamed presidential site with Buckingham Palace and its grounds superimposed on it to the same scale. The purpose of the map was to convey the impression that there is more to this presidential site than just serving the needs of a head of state. And there are 8 presidential sites in Iraq. Of course, had an outline of Balmoral been superimposed instead, the impression would have been entirely different.
(This device must have dreamed up in Downing Street: perhaps it was one of the “presentational suggestions” Alistair Campbell has admitted making to the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee about the dossier. It served its purpose well because it was a big talking point when the dossier was published.)
The Government has known about this error since early January, at least, but needless to say, it has made no effort to publicise a correction. Of itself, it is not very important in the argument about Iraq’s proscribed weapons. But correcting it would have meant admitting that the authors of this very important dossier got known facts wrong, which doesn’t inspire confidence in their ability to assess intelligence. So, the Government kept quiet about it, lest the authority of their dossier be severely damaged.
The second error of fact, on page 39, paragraph 13, is yet another instance of Government misrepresentation of what happened in December 1998, to cause the UN inspectors to leave Iraq. This is but one of the hundreds of such instances that took place in the lead up to war, most memorably in Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Tony Blair on 6 February 2003, when he had to be corrected five times (transcript here).
The dossier speaks of “the effective ejection of UN inspectors” from Iraq in December 1998. Of course, the inspectors were not ejected by Iraq: they were withdrawn by Richard Butler at the request of the US Government because of the imminence of Desert Fox, the 4-day US/UK bombing campaign on Iraq, as the following extract from his book Saddam Defiant shows:
“I received a telephone call from US Ambassador [to the UN] Peter Burleigh inviting me for a private conversation at the US mission. ... Burleigh informed me that on instructions from Washington it would be 'prudent to take measures to ensure the safety and security of UNSCOM staff presently in Iraq.' … I told him that I would act on his advice and remove my staff from Iraq.” (p224)
The people who caused the UN inspectors to be ejected from Iraq were Bill Clinton and, his ally in Desert Fox, Tony Blair.
It would be unfair to accuse the people who got this wrong of lying. But it reveals their mindset: they are believers in the myth of unceasing Iraqi obstruction to inspection, which reached its zenith with the expulsion of UN inspectors in December 1998, thereby proving that Saddam had something to hide and, after almost four years without inspections, must have had even more to hide in September 2002.
For people with that mindset, no evidence was required to prove that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” in September 2002. It was “palpably absurd” to believe otherwise, to use Tony Blair’s words to the House of Commons on 18 March 2003. It is easy to see why those responsible for the dossier reached the bold conclusions they did: without evidence of Iraqi disarmament since 1998, for them it would have been “palpably absurd” to come to any other conclusions.
The Foreign Office must be keeping things from him.)
The final UNSCOM report in January 1999 emphasises the importance to its work of the defection of General Hussein Kamel, the former director of Iraq's Military Industrialisation Corporation, in charge of Iraq's weapons programme. Referring to him it says:
“… the overall period of the Commission's disarmament work must be divided into two parts, separated by the events following the departure from Iraq, in August 1995, of Lt. General Hussein Kamal. This resulted in the provision to the Commission of an extensive cache of documents on Iraq’s prohibited programmes.”
He was interviewed by a joint UNSCOM/IAEA team in Amman on 22 August 1995, but it was not until February 2003 that details the interview became public knowledge, thanks to Glen Rangwala (See here for a facsimile of the official notes of the interview).
In the interview, Kamel says:
“I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed” (p13).
Earlier (p7), he described anthrax as the “main focus” of Iraq biological programme and when asked “were weapons and agents destroyed?”, he replied: “nothing remained”.
Of missiles, he said: “not a single missile left but they had blueprints and molds [sic] for production. All missiles were destroyed.” (p8)
The Government’s dossier emphasises the importance of the defection of Hussein Kamel, but strangely in this supposedly objective document there is no mention that he told UN inspectors that, on his orders, all of Iraq’s proscribed weapons and weapons-related material were destroyed.
A regular feature of Government pre-war propaganda was for ministers to read out a long list of weapons and weapons-related material, which UN inspectors had been unable to account for. That is, inspectors knew that the items had existed at one time; Iraq said it had destroyed them, but was unable to present quantitative evidence of their destruction to inspectors.
In making the case for war, ministers never made it clear that weapons and weapons-related material that UN inspectors could not account for did not necessarily exist. As Hans Blix said to the Security Council on 5 June 2003
“…it is not justified to jump to the conclusion that something exists just because it is unaccounted for.”
The Prime Minister encouraged his listeners to make that jump when he made a statement on the dossier to the House of Commons on 24 September 2002:
“As the dossier sets out, we estimate on the basis of the UN's work that there were up to 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agents, including 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agent; up to 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals; growth media sufficient to produce 26,000 litres of anthrax spores; and over 30,000 special munitions for delivery of chemical and biological agents. All of this was missing and unaccounted for.”
99% of people reading that would conclude that we had it on UN authority that on 24 September 2002 Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, plus material for making more, when all the UN inspectors have ever said is that such weapons and material have not been accounted for.
In his war speech on 18 March 2003, he told the House of Commons:
“When the inspectors left in 1998, they left unaccounted for 10,000 litres of anthrax; a far-reaching VX nerve agent programme; up to 6,500 chemical munitions; at least 80 tonnes of mustard gas, and possibly more than 10 times that amount; unquantifiable amounts of sarin, botulinum toxin and a host of other biological poisons; and an entire Scud missile programme. We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years—contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence—Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.”
Think about that: he is saying that Iraq must have proscribed weapons now, since it is palpably absurd to claim that Saddam Hussein destroyed them since 1998 – even though according to the first sentence they were merely unaccounted for in 1998. Obviously, there is no distinction in the Prime Minister’s mind between being unaccounted for and existing.
These are but two of the many examples of the genre in which ministers gave the impression, to put it at its mildest, that UN inspectors had said that weapons and weapons-related material actually existed, when they had merely said they were unaccounted for.
It is difficult to work out whether the authors of the dossier itself made the jump that Hans Blix warned about – because the sources of the claims in it, and sometimes the claims themselves, are often obscure. This applies particularly to the core claims in paragraph 2 of the Executive Summary, which says:
“Much information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction is already in the public domain from UN reports and from Iraqi defectors. This points clearly to Iraq’s continuing possession, after 1991, of chemical and biological agents and weapons produced before the Gulf War. It shows that Iraq has refurbished sites formerly associated with the production of chemical and biological agents. And it indicates that Iraq remains able to manufacture these agents, and to use bombs, shells, artillery rockets and ballistic missiles to deliver them.”
That paragraph is extraordinarily opaque for any document, let alone a supposedly objective document, drawn up to inform the decision on peace or war.
The first sentence seems to place the same value on information from defectors as information from UN reports, which cannot be intended given the well-known unreliability of defectors.
The meaning of the second sentence is unfathomable. Is it saying that Iraq continued to possess these agents and weapons after 1991, which is a well-established fact attested to by UNSCOM? Or is it saying that it is well-established fact that Iraq continued to possess these agents and weapons right up to September 2002? Or is it merely an intelligence judgment that Iraq possessed these agents and weapons in September 2002? Likewise, are sentences 3 and 4 saying that it is a well-established fact that Iraq has reconstituted its production facilities, or merely an intelligence judgment?
To add to the confusion, in Part 3 of the dossier (Iraq under Saddam Hussein) page 46, paragraph 16, it says:
“Some twenty thousand Iranians were killed by mustard gas and the nerve agents tabun and sarin, all of which Iraq still possesses.”
Is this categorical statement that Iraq possesses chemical agents a well-established fact, or is it based on intelligence judgment? Or perhaps the authors have jumped to the conclusion that Hans Blix warned against.
All of Iraq’s unaccounted for chemical and biological agents were manufactured before the Gulf War. The dossier said nothing about the possible degradation of these agents, despite much independent evidence that many of them would no longer be useful as warfare agents.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published a report on Iraq’s proscribed weapons on 9 September 2002, which the Government’s dossier refers to approvingly in its Executive Summary as “an independent and well-researched overview”.
It comments on the possible deterioration of nerve agents manufactured prior to the Gulf War. Here, we are talking about so-called G-agents (tabun, sarin and cyclosarin) and V-agents (VX). The IISS assessment is as follows:
“As a practical matter, any nerve agent from this period [pre-1991] would have deteriorated by now …” (p51)
“Any VX produced by Iraq before 1991 is likely to have decomposed over the past decade …” (p52)
“Any G-agent or V-agent stocks that Iraq concealed from UNSCOM inspections are likely to have deteriorated by now.” (p53).
And as regards botulinum toxin, the IISS dossier concluded:
"Any botulinum toxin produced in 1989-90 would no longer be useful" (p40).
None of this was included in the Government’s dossier. That cannot have been an oversight.
Before the invasion of Iraq, UNMOVIC published (on 6 March 2003) a 173-page document entitled Unresolved Disarmament Issues. Tony Blair and Jack Straw are very fond of referring to this document, and every time they refer to it they mention its title and its size. What more proof is needed that Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction”, they imply, than an account of unresolved disarmament issues by the nice Mr Blix that is 173 pages long.
In fact, the title of the document is misleading: it contains an historical survey of Iraq’s development of chemical and biological weapons and missiles, of their use and destruction by Iraq itself and by UN inspectors, ending with a statement of unresolved issues for each item, plus suggestions as to what Iraq might do to resolve these issues. It also has something to say about the probable lack of effectiveness of some of the chemical and biological agents, if they still exist.
The Prime Minister quoted from it in his war speech to the House of Commons of 18 March 2003. In the course of that speech (see quote above), he spoke of “unquantifiable amounts of sarin”, but he failed to mention the following UNMOVIC assessment about these “unquantifiable amounts”:
“There is no evidence that any bulk Sarin-type agents remain in Iraq - gaps in accounting of these agents are related to Sarin-type agents weaponized in rocket warheads and aerial bombs. Based on the documentation found by UNSCOM during inspections in Iraq, Sarin-type agents produced by Iraq were largely of low quality and as such, degraded shortly after production. Therefore, with respect to the unaccounted for weaponized Sarin-type agents, it is unlikely that they would still be viable today.” (Unresolved Disarmament Issues, p73)
Tony Blair also mentioned VX as an awful threat (again, see above). This VX was produced in 1990 by what UNMOVIC called “route B”. According to UNMOVIC:
“VX produced through route B must be used relatively quickly after production (about 1 to 8 weeks), which would probably be satisfactory for wartime requirements.” (ibid, p82)
Tony Blair also mentioned “a host of other biological poisons” (again, see above). One of the biological poisons known to have been manufactured by Iraq is botulinum toxin. Tony Blair failed to mention the following UNMOVIC assessment on botulinum toxin:
“Any botulinum toxin that was produced and stored according to the methods described by Iraq and in the time period declared is unlikely to retain much, if any, of its potency. Therefore, any such stockpiles of botulinum toxin, whether in bulk storage or in weapons that remained in 1991, would not be active today.” (ibid, p101)
Tony Blair also mentioned mustard gas, but he failed to mention the following UNMOVIC assessment:
“There is much evidence, including documents provided by Iraq and information collected by UNSCOM, to suggest that most quantities of Mustard remaining in 1991, as declared by Iraq, were destroyed under UNSCOM supervision. The remaining gaps are related to the accounting for Mustard filled aerial bombs and artillery projectiles. There are 550 Mustard filled shells and up to 450 mustard filled aerial bombs unaccounted for since 1998. The mustard filled shells account for a couple of tonnes of agent while the aerial bombs account for approximately 70 tonnes. According to an investigation made by the Iraqi “Depot Inspection Commission”, the results of which were reported to UNMOVIC in March 2003, the discrepancy in the accounting for the mustard filled shells could be explained by the fact that Iraq had based its accounting on approximations.” (ibid, p76)
Mustard is the only chemical agent once possessed by Iraq that, it is generally thought, does not degrade; however, UNMOVIC was content that the vast bulk of it was accounted for. As for biological agents, only anthrax was unaccounted for to any substantial degree. Opinion is divided as to whether the “wet” anthrax produced by Iraq degrades, but Blix was of the opinion that even after 15 years “it could be viable” (ibid, p98).
Needless to say, the above is not the whole story – for example, there are also outstanding questions about precursor material – but there is no doubt that Tony Blair gave grossly inaccurate information to Parliament about Iraq’s proscribed chemical and biological agents. Had he given accurate information, it is highly unlikely that Parliament would have voted for war.
In the limited time they were allowed, the IAEA inspectors confirmed that Iraq had not revived its nuclear weapons programme, which had been dismantled by UNSCOM. They also went close to disproving all of the claims in the September dossier that Iraq was trying to revive it. The documentation from British sources “proving” that Iraq had recently tried to import uranium from Niger was easily identified as a forgery. And the inspectors accepted that the aluminium tubes, which Iraq was trying to import, were for rockets, not to build centrifuges for uranium enrichment, as was claimed.
The September dossier named about eight sites suspected of producing chemicals, which could be used for the production of proscribed chemical agents. Before the end of January, all these sites had been visited by UN inspectors and nothing suspect has been found. Replying to a written question from Labour MP. Harry Cohen, in the House of Commons on 22 January 2003, Foreign Office Minister, Mike O’Brien, was admitted:
“We understand from published information from UNMOVIC and the IAEA inspectors have visited all of the sites identified in the UK dossier. They have not reported uncovering any signs of weapons of mass destruction, or programmes for their production at the sites.”
That doesn’t entirely rule out that proscribed activity was going on at these sites last September as claimed in the dossier, but by January it was no longer going on – which is argument for continued inspection.
The Government never attempted to draw to public attention any of this information, which modified the assessment in the September dossier. On the contrary, the Government constantly derided anything the inspectors discovered as unimportant.
And finally, there was the Government’s gross misrepresentation of the French position on military action against Iraq.
For example, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons on 18 March 2002:
“Last Monday [10 March], we were getting very close with it [the second resolution]. We very nearly had the majority agreement. ... Then, on Monday night, France said that it would veto a second resolution, whatever the circumstances.”
It is quite untrue to say that President Chirac ruled out military action in all circumstances on 10 March: on the contrary, he specifically ruled it in, if the inspectors reported that they couldn’t do their job, as the following extract from his TV interview on 10 March shows:
“The inspectors have to tell us: ‘we can continue and, at the end of a period which we think should be of a few months’ - I'm saying a few months because that's what they have said – ‘we shall have completed our work and Iraq will be disarmed’. Or they will come and tell the Security Council: ‘we are sorry but Iraq isn't cooperating, the progress isn't sufficient, we aren't in a position to achieve our goal, we won't be able to guarantee Iraq's disarmament’. In that case it will be for the Security Council and it alone to decide the right thing to do. But in that case, of course, regrettably, the war would become inevitable. It isn't today.” (see English translation of the interview here)
* * *
That the Government failed to give “accurate and complete information to Parliament in the period leading up to military action in Iraq, particularly in relation to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction” is not in doubt. The case against the Government is overwhelming.
The above should be the substance of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report. To write it, we didn’t need sight of raw intelligence, or the Joint Intelligence Committee’s assessments of raw intelligence. Nor did we need to take evidence from the Prime Minister, or the Foreign Secretary, or even Alistair Campbell. We just read publicly available sources, all of which were available prior to Parliament voting for war on 18 March 2003.
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