Iraq:  Campbell reveals little


Duty compelled me to skim through Book Three of Alastair Campbell’s diary extracts in case he had failed to delete something incriminating about our military intervention in Iraq.  There is, unfortunately, very little.  Here is the little I found.


Regime change in Iraq

Broadly speaking, the diary extracts back up the thesis established by the leaked official documents from March 2002 that, by then, Blair had taken the decision to give the US military assistance to change the regime in Iraq (see my pamphlet Iraq: How regime change was dressed up as disarmament [1]).


Remember that one of the leaked documents was a memo, dated 14 March 2002, to Blair from his then Foreign Policy adviser, Sir David Manning.  In it, Manning reported on a conversation with Condoleezza Rice, who was Bush’s National Security adviser at the time, in which he told her that Blair “would not budge in [his] support for regime change”.


There are occasional titbits in Campbell’s diary extracts that back up the view that regime change, and not just disarmament, was Blair’s settled position by the time he went to meet Bush in Crawford, Texas on 6/7 April 2002.  For example, on 2 April 2002, Campbell writes:


“We discussed whether the central aim was WMD or regime change.  ... TB felt it was regime change in part because of WMD but more broadly because of the threat to the region and the world.”


This is weak confirmation compared with that provided by Christopher Meyer, who was British Ambassador in Washington at the time, in his book DC Confidential.  Writing about the period leading up to the Crawford meeting, Meyer states bluntly:


“By this stage, Tony Blair had already taken the decision to support regime change, though he was discreet about saying so in public.” (p 241)


Indeed he was.


Later, for 23 July 2002, the diary extracts say:


“TB saw regime change as the route to dealing with WMD.”


This was the day “TB chaired a big Iraq meeting”.  The minutes of this “big Iraq meeting” were also leaked.  These record Blair hoping against hope that Saddam Hussein would refuse to admit weapons inspectors, and by so doing provide an excuse for military action to effect regime change:


“… it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. … If the political context were right, people would support regime change.” [2]


Later, for 31 August 2002, Campbell writes:


“Blair was a lot steelier than when we went on holiday.  Clear that getting Saddam was the right thing to do.”


And for 23 September 2002:


“TB … really believed in getting rid of bad people like Saddam.”


All of this should be contrasted with his clear statement to the House of Commons on 25 February 2003 that his sole objective was the disarmament of Iraq:


“I detest his [Saddam Hussein’s] regime – I hope most people do – but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.” [3]


Links with al-Qaida

The most interesting piece I found on Iraq is for 27 February 2003.  There, Campbell explains how Downing Street concocted a way of justifying military intervention Iraq as a means of combating al-Qaida – even though they knew there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.  The extract for 27 February 2003 says:


“TB felt we had to be pushing two main arguments – the moral case [is that Saddam Hussein was a bad person – DM] and the reason why the threat was real and current, not because he could whack missiles off at London but because he could tie up with terrorists and others with a vested interest in damaging our interests.  But we should understate rather than overstate … .  The Americans’ saying there was a direct link was counterproductive.  Far better to be saying there was a possibility and one that we were determined to ensure never came about.”


This shows that Downing Street was concerned that the US administration’s propaganda line that Saddam Hussein’s regime had a connection with al-Qaida was unsustainable in Britain – since there was no evidence for it – and therefore its use could be counterproductive in making the case for military action.


So, an alternative line was manufactured, which did not postulate an existing connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, but speculated about a future connection.  (And this non-existent connection was why the threat from Saddam Hussein was “real and current”, writes Campbell !!)


This line about a possible future connection featured strongly in Blair’s speech to the House of Commons on 18 March 2003 when he was trying to persuade the House of Commons to vote to take military action against Iraq.  Here is an extract:


“The key today is stability and order. The threat is chaos and disorder – and there are two begetters of chaos: tyrannical regimes with weapons of mass destruction and extreme terrorist groups who profess a perverted and false view of Islam…


“Those two threats have, of course, different motives and different origins, but they share one basic common view: they detest the freedom, democracy and tolerance that are the hallmarks of our way of life. At the moment, I accept fully that the association between the two is loose—but it is hardening. The possibility of the two coming together – of terrorist groups in possession of weapons of mass destruction or even of a so-called dirty radiological bomb – is now, in my judgment, a real and present danger to Britain and its national security.”


Of course, neither Campbell nor Blair felt the need to tell the British Parliament or people that the British intelligence services had warned them that the threat from al-Qaida would be increased by taking military action against Iraq, as would the risk of Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” falling into the hands of al-Qaida.  We know this from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments published in September 2003, Paragraphs 125-128 of which are concerned with terrorism.  On 10 February 2003, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) produced an assessment entitled International Terrorism: War with Iraq [4], in which, according to the ISC report, it


“assessed that al-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.”


The JIC also


“assessed that any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists, not necessarily al-Qaida.”


Blair didn’t tell the House of Commons about either of these warnings on 18 March 2003, lest its enthusiasm for military action against Iraq be dampened.


Robin Cook

If Campbell’s diary extracts can be believed, Robin Cook became an opponent of the invasion very late in the day.  The extract for 16 January 2003 includes the following in an account of a Cabinet meeting:


“Robin C said we were in a tremendous position on the UN, ‘thanks to you’, he said to TB.  He said the prospect of getting a second resolution was stronger if we do not rule out saying we may do it without one.”


That indicates that in mid-January he was in favour of military action as long as a second UN resolution was passed and perhaps even without one.  And remember the draft second resolution that failed to get the support of the Security Council did not authorise military action against Iraq – it merely said that Iraq was in breach of its disarmament obligations as set down in Security Council resolutions (see my pamphlet The Attorney-General's legal advice was sound [5]).


Cook willingness to contemplate military action against Iraq without explicit Security Council authorisation is not surprising, since as Foreign Secretary he justified military action against Iraq in December 1998 and against Yugoslavia in March 1999 without Security Council authorisation.


Cook’s anti-war credentials are greatly exaggerated.  In the Commons debate on the Hutton Report on 20 July 2004, Cook described the Government’s dossier on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” as “one-sided, dogmatic and unqualified” [6].  As a leading member of the Government which published that dossier, he bore collective responsibility for it, but he remained in that Government for the next six months as the dossier was used to frighten the British Parliament into supporting military action with disastrous consequences, resigning at the last moment when it was too late to stop the military action.



David Morrison

Labour & Trade Union Review

29 July 2007