There is a widespread feeling in Britain that Prime Minister Tony Blair was, to say the least, economical with the truth in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, in particular, that he expressed a certainty about Iraq’s possession of “weapons of mass destruction” that was unwarranted by the intelligence evidence available to him at the time.
However, the story of how in the 12
months prior to the invasion he engineered the
The basic facts of the matter can be found in a series of pamphlets and a plethora of articles I wrote before and after the invasion, all of which are available on my website . The pamphlets are:
The Attorney-General's legal advice was sound (Mar 2006) 
Also, in June 2003, I made a submission to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the decision to go to war in Iraq  and in November 2003 I wrote a critique of the Committee’s report, which the Committee published .
In the following, I set out some of the basic facts, and indicate where further information can be found in my earlier writing.
Blair backed regime change in March 2002
On 31 October 1998,
“regime change” in
“It should be the policy of the
By March 2002, President Bush had
decided to invade
However, for the next 12 months, the
Prime Minister kept this from the British public and pretended that his
objective was limited to the disarmament of
“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.” 
Before the invasion, it was widely suspected that the Prime Minister was determined upon regime change by military means, despite his protestations to the contrary. But unambiguous evidence did not emerge until September 2004, when 6 official documents from March 2002 were leaked to the Daily Telegraph and came into the public domain. Facsimiles of them can be read on my website here .
One of these was a memo to the Prime
Minister, dated 14 March 2002, from his Foreign Policy Adviser, Sir David
Manning. The memo reported on Sir
David’s discussions in
“I said [to Condoleezza Rice] that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States.” 
In other words, in March 2002 the
Bush administration was given an assurance that the Prime Minister was
unflinching in his commitment to regime change in
This Prime Minister’s commitment was
confirmed by another
leaked document, this one in a memo from Sir
Christopher Meyer, the British Ambassador in
“I opened by
sticking very closely to the script that you used with Condi Rice. We backed regime change, but the plan
had to be clever and failure was not an option. It would be a tough sell for us
domestically, and probably tougher elsewhere in
in November 2005, Sir Christopher published an account of his time in
“By this stage, Tony Blair had already taken the decision to support regime change, though he was discreet about saying so in public.” (p241)
The stage in question was
prior to the meeting between Bush and Blair in
So, there is no doubt that,
by March 2002, Blair was committed to supporting Bush in taking military action
to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime.
But, in the words of Christopher Meyer, there had to be a “clever plan”
to sell the project domestically in
In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the Security Council passed a series of resolutions, beginning with 687 passed on 3 April 1991 , which required Iraq to give up its “weapons of mass destruction” and imposed severe economic sanctions, which were to remain in operation until the disarmament process was complete.
reality, the process was complete in a few years – within months, Iraq unilaterally
destroyed the vast bulk of its chemical and biological weapons and related
material (see Iraq Survey Group report ,
published on 6 October 2004, Chapter 1, page 46) and UN inspectors destroyed the rest in the next year or two. However, the Security Council refused to
accept that disarmament was complete and the economic sanctions remained in
The “clever plan”
So, how were Bush and Blair going to
On the one hand, Blair wanted to make
the case in terms of disarming
However, in March 2002 Bush
was opposed to the issue being put on the agenda of the Security Council. He had taken a decision to overthrow Saddam
Hussein by military means and didn’t see the need to ask the Security Council
for authority to do it. It was an unnecessary
complication that could do more harm than good by stirring up international
opposition to the project. However, in
September 2002, he agreed to the Prime Minister’s pleas to take “the UN route”,
having been persuaded that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for
The impression given to the British public at this time was that Blair had persuaded Bush to modify his position from regime change to disarmament under UN auspices. In reality, from the outset, he shared the President’s objective of regime change, but he persuaded the President to co-operate in dressing this objective up as disarmament under UN auspices.
Evidence for the “clever plan”
What’s the evidence that the Prime Minister had a “clever plan” to persuade the Security Council to make Saddam Hussein an offer on inspection he couldn’t accept?
There’s a clue in Sir David Manning’s memo to the Prime Minister, where he writes that “renwed refused [sic] by Saddam to accept unfettered inspections would be a powerful argument” for military action .
In similar vein, Sir Christopher
Meyer reported in his memo to Manning that if the
The leaked minutes of a
high powered meeting on
“… 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.” 
Those are not the words of
a person dedicated to the disarmament of
Consistent with this plan,
when on 16 September 2002
“… [Saddam Hussein’s] chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programme is not an historic left-over from 1998. The inspectors are not needed to clean up the old remains. His weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing.” 
Yet he (and Bush) prevented inspectors going in to “clean up” either the “old remains” or the current “active, detailed and growing” programmes.
The “clever plan” fails
On 8 November 2002, the Security
Council passed resolution 1441  unanimously. It stated unambiguously that
The British Government portrayed the passing of this resolution as a triumph for British diplomacy. In fact, it represented a major defeat for the US/UK – because Saddam Hussein agreed to allow UN inspectors to operate under its terms.
Resolution 1441 was based on a draft
proposed by the US/UK , which
was designed to set terms that
So, if the draft resolution had been
passed by the Council, and if
But, the US/UK draft resolution
wasn’t passed. Instead, at the
Another excuse – non-cooperation
So, the Prime Minister had to
manufacture another excuse to justify taking military action against
It was difficult to convince the
world of this, since the inspectors were being allowed unfettered access. All of the sites named in the September
dossier as possibly being used for agent/weapons production were visited by
inspectors in December 2002 and January 2003 and the inspectors found no
evidence of current, or recent, production activity. Other sites, nominated to the inspectors by
the CIA and MI6, were also visited with the same result.
Faced with this lack of evidence that Iraq possessed proscribed weapons, Blair’s response was to publish the largely plagiarised February dossier, entitled Iraq - its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation , the purpose of which was to explain to the world that the inspectors’ failure to find any proscribed material was due to Iraq’s hiding it, rather than to its non-existence.
(For further information,
see my pamphlet
Use of force “legal”, says Goldsmith
On 17 March 2003, in a written
answer in the House of Lords , the Attorney-General,
Lord Goldsmith, declared that the
How did he come to this remarkable conclusion, given that there was no explicit authorisation for the use of force to disarm Iraq in resolution 1441 (nor in any earlier Security Council resolution), and, as we will see, US/UK attempts to persuade the Council to pass a further resolution failed miserably? This is discussed at length in my pamphlet The Attorney-General's legal advice was sound . I summarise here.
The argument used by the
Attorney-General was a variant of one that had been used on several
occasions by the British Government to justify taking military action against
The Government’s argument, for what
it’s worth, is based on the notion that the first disarmament resolution 687,
passed on 3 April 1991, set out the terms of a ceasefire and suspended, but did
not terminate, the authority to use force in resolution 678. As a consequence, if at any time the Security
How 678 revived, allegedly
In early 2003, when there was no
hope of the Security Council explicitly authorising military action to enforce disarmament,
the Government had to fall back on the 678 revival argument. To give its own version of the revival
argument a semblance of validity, the Government required a clear statement by the
Security Council that
Security Council] Decides that
Voting for that meant agreeing with the
Undaunted, the Government called upon the American version of the revival argument, which merely required that the UK be of the opinion that Iraq has failed to comply with its disarmament obligations in order to revive the 678 authority to take military action against Iraq.
So, as explained in the
“. . . it is
unequivocally the Prime Minister’s view that
to which the Prime Minister replied the next day, saying:
“. . . it is indeed the Prime Minister’s unequivocal view that Iraq is in further material breach of its obligations, as in OP4 [Operative Paragraph 4] of UNSCR 1441, because of ‘false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq to comply with, and co-operate fully in the implementation of, this resolution’.”
No doubt the Prime Minister was up all night anguishing over this reply.
As a result, the Attorney-General was able to assert in his written answer in the House of Lords on 17 March 2003:
“It is plain
and to conclude that 678 authority
had revived. So, the use of force
Attorney-General’s conclusion nonsensical?
On the face of it, the Attorney-General’s argument and
conclusion is nonsensical. At the time
he published his conclusion, 11 out of 15 members of the Security Council were
opposed to military action against
But, there is no judicial body in the world in a
position to declare that the Attorney-General’s conclusion was nonsensical and
In practical terms, all military action by the
Of course, wherever possible, the
Ideally, the Prime Minister
wanted a resolution overtly authorising military action against
Alternative: continue inspections
Of course, even if one accepts that the ridiculous proposition that the military action was
authorised by the Security Council, the political decision to proceed was a separate matter. In his “address to the nation” on 20 March 2003, as British forces went into action, the Prime Minister justified this decision as follows:
“For 12 years, the world
tried to disarm Saddam … . UN weapons inspectors say vast amounts of chemical
and biological poisons, such as anthrax, VX nerve agent, and mustard gas remain
unaccounted for in
“So our choice is clear: back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened; or proceed to disarm him by force. Retreat might give us a moment of respite but years of repentance at our weakness would I believe follow.” 
But, if one was committed
to disarmament rather than regime change, the alternative to military action in
March 2003 was not “to back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened”: it was
to continue inspections. Even if one believed that
Inspection could have
continued indefinitely and it stands to reason that, while inspection and other
forms of surveillance were going on,
The bottom line was that
the continuation of inspections was not an effective alternative for a Prime
Minister who refused to budge in his support for regime change. And the
Intelligence “sexed up”
The most fundamental aspect of the
Prime Minister’s deceit on the road to war with
Another aspect was the exaggeration
of the known intelligence about
I set out the extensive evidence of
this exaggeration in my pamphlet
The Government’s dossier made
extravagant claims, not only that
The Government claimed that all this was soundly based on the existing intelligence. Unambiguous evidence to the contrary came into the public domain in September 2003, with the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC)’s report, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments . Evidence given to the Hutton Inquiry around the same time about the compilation of the document cast grave doubt on whether it gave a reliable summary of the existing intelligence.
Here is one of the many examples of
the gross manipulation of intelligence that the Government got up to. Famously, the dossier stated that
The intelligence that led to the
claim, such as it was, referred to the deployment of battlefield weapons, not
to strategic weapons, capable of hitting
The ISC report revealed (paragraph 49) that the claim was derived from an MI6 report dated 30 August 2002, allegedly based on information from an Iraqi military officer, who was in a position to know, received by MI6 through a third party.
The information was that on average it took 20 minutes to move chemical and biological munitions into place for attack (the maximum response time was 45 minutes). But the information didn’t identify the munitions to which the 45-minute claim was supposed to apply, nor from where to where the munitions could be moved within 45 minutes (ibid, paragraph 52).
On this slim foundation the 45-minute claim was included in the dossier not once, but four times. Of the claim, the ISC said:
“The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier. The omission of the context and assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning. This was unhelpful to an understanding of this issue.” (ibid, paragraph 112)
Objectively, the 45-minute claim amounted to very little. As the ISC said:
“That the Iraqis could use chemical or biological battlefield weapons rapidly had already been established in previous conflicts and the reference to the 20–45 minutes in the JIC Assessment added nothing fundamentally new to the UK’s assessment of the Iraqi battlefield capability. “ (ibid, paragraph 56)
So, a claim which “added nothing fundamentally new” appeared four times in the dossier – and appeared each time in a form that didn’t make clear that it referred to battlefield weapons. And it was widely misreported in the press on 24/25 September 2002 with frightening headlines, as referring to strategic weapons capable of hitting Cyprus.
The Evening Standard headline on 24
September was 45 Minutes From Attack. The Sun headline the next day
45 mins FROM DOOM.
Many people formed the opinion that
And the Government did nothing to dispel these frightening impressions that were not justified by the intelligence. Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, admitted to the Hutton Inquiry, that he was aware of the misreporting, but did nothing to correct it. And nor did anybody else in the Government. Hoon told the Inquiry:
“… I was not aware of whether any consideration was given to such a correction. All that I do know from my experience is that, generally speaking, newspapers are resistant to corrections. That judgment may have been made by others as well.” 
The proposition that Ministers did
not attempt to correct the misleading press reports because the press would not
carry such a correction is risible.
Another serious example of the
Government misleading the public concerned
The lie was that, in a TV interview
on 10 March 2003, President Chirac had said that
However, he also made it clear that
In that case, he said:
“… 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.”
There, the President was merely restating the consistent French position that disarmament through inspection should be replaced by disarmament through military action only if inspectors reported failure, and then only with the authority of the Security Council. It was a position held by 11 out of 15 members of the Council.
The motion before the House of Commons on 18 March 2003 said:
“That this House … regrets that despite sustained diplomatic effort by Her Majesty's Government it has not proved possible to secure a second Resolution in the UN because one Permanent Member of the Security Council made plain in public its intention to use its veto whatever the circumstances;” 
In proposing the motion, the Prime
Minister identified the Permanent Member as
“Last Monday [10 March], we were getting very close with it [the second resolution]. We very nearly had the majority agreement. …
were debates about the length of the ultimatum, but the basic construct was
gathering support. Then, on Monday night,
That is a lie.
For example, on 18 March 2003, he told the House of Commons:
“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. …
“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.” 
When he said that, the Prime
Minister was aware that the intelligence services had no evidence that
This information was made public in the ISC report (paragraphs 125-127). But the Prime Minister chose not to divulge any of this information to Parliament prior to the invasion, understandably so, since it would have undermined an important part of his case for military action.
The intelligence services also
judged that al-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent by far the
greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that the threat would be heightened by military action against
Iraq (ibid, paragraph 126). The latter
view was advanced by most opponents of military action against
Terrorist threat to Britain
Most likely, the bombings in
political establishment in
This stance was maintained even though in July 2005 the MI5 website said in a page headed Threat to the UK from International Terrorism:
“In recent years,
This straightforward message remained on the MI5 website for the next couple of years.
A few months earlier, in April 2005,
a Joint Intelligence Committee report, entitled International Terrorism:
Impact of Iraq, was even
more explicit about the motivating effect of the invasion of
“There is a
clear consensus within the
that the conflict in
jihadists who leave
This was the considered assessment
of the British intelligence services a few months before al-Qaida struck in
(See my pamphlet The
179 British military personnel were
killed and 315 seriously wounded during the invasion and occupation of
At least a hundred thousand Iraqis,
and perhaps a great many more, have been killed, as a result of the US/UK
invasion and the destruction of the Iraqi state. Many more have been injured. About 2 million Iraqis are refugees in
We will never know how many Iraqis
have been killed, because, in the famous words of General Tommy Franks, the
The estimates of Iraqi deaths that exist have been put together by organisations other than the occupying powers. From the outset, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) organisation has compiled a count of Iraqi civilians killed from media reports of incidents. This count is inevitably an underestimate since not all incidents in which Iraqis die are reported in the media.
As of 7 January 2010, the IBC estimate was in the range 94,939 to 103,588  (and the death toll is rising again). The IBC view is that the actual number could be double that. Other estimates have been much, much higher.
But, a murderous tyrant has been removed and is no longer in a position to murder innocent Iraqis? This was the message the Prime Minister gave the House of Commons on the eve of the invasion (19 March 2003):
I understand that, if there is conflict, there will be civilian casualties.
That, I am afraid, is in the nature of any conflict, but we will do our best to
minimise them. However, I point out to my hon. Friend that civilian casualties
The message was clear: left alone, Saddam Hussein would kill more innocent Iraqis in a year than will be killed in the upcoming conflict. Ultimately, more lives would be saved by taking military action to overthrow him.
So, on 19 March 2003, how many innocent Iraqis would one have expected Saddam Hussein to kill in the next twelve months, if he were left alone? Presumably, the Prime Minister had a figure in his head when he spoke. Scores would seem to be a reasonable estimate: Amnesty International estimated that “scores of people, including possible prisoners of conscience, were executed” in 2002, a similar number in 2001 and “hundreds” in 2000 , and nobody can accuse Amnesty International of being soft on Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein would have had to remain in power for thousands of years to match the carnage unleashed by the US/UK in overthrowing him.
7 January 2010