The invasion of Iraq: the basic facts


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 UK’s participation in a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime is not widely known, even though the basic facts have been in the public domain for many years.


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 [1].  The pamphlets are:


Iraq: Lies, Half-truths & Omissions (1st Edition, Nov 2003) [2]

Iraq: Lies, Half-truths & Omissions (2nd Edition, May 2004) [3]

Iraq: How regime change was dressed up as disarmament (Dec 2005) [4]

The Attorney-General's legal advice was sound (Mar 2006) [5]

Iraq WAS a US ally in "war on terror" (Nov 2006) [6]


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 [7] and in November 2003 I wrote a critique of the Committee’s report, which the Committee published [8].


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 Iraq became the official policy of the US.  On that day President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, Section 3 of which states:


“It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” [9]


By March 2002, President Bush had decided to invade Iraq to put this established policy into effect.  From the British point of view, the most significant fact about the invasion is that, by March 2002, Prime Minister Blair had given the President a commitment to support him in this endeavour.


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 Iraq of its “weapons of mass destruction”, in accordance with Security Council resolutions.  For example, a few weeks before the invasion, on 25 February 2003, he told the House of Commons:


“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.” [10]


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 [11].


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 Washington with Condoleezza Rice, who was then the President’s National Security adviser.  The key sentence in this is:


“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.” [12]


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 Iraq, and not merely to its disarmament in accordance with Security Council resolutions, as he told the British public.


This Prime Minister’s commitment was confirmed by another leaked document, this one in a memo from Sir Christopher Meyer, the British Ambassador in Washington, to Sir David himself.  This reported on a conversation with Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy Defense Secretary, on 17 March 2002.  The next day, Sir Christopher wrote to Sir David, as follows:


“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 Europe.” [13]


Later, in November 2005, Sir Christopher published an account of his time in Washington as British Ambassador in a book called, DC Confidential.  In it, he wrote:


“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 Crawford, Texas, in early April 2002.


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 Britain.  As we will see, the essence of the “clever plan” was to dress regime change up as disarmament.


Disarming Iraq

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the Security Council passed a series of resolutions, beginning with 687 passed on 3 April 1991 [14], 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.


In 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 [15], 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 place.  The US made it clear that it would not countenance sanctions being lifted as long as Saddam Hussein was in power.


UN inspectors left Iraq in December 1998.  They were not thrown out, as the Prime Minister constantly stated in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.  They were withdrawn at the request of President Clinton, because the US and the UK were about to launch Operation Desert Fox, a bombing campaign to punish Iraq for its alleged non-cooperation with the weapons inspectors.  (This wasn’t true – see Appendix D of my pamphlet Iraq: Lies, Half-truths & Omissions [2]).


Understandably, Iraq refused to allow the inspectors back in again and, in March 2002, there had been no inspectors in Iraq for over 3 years and sanctions were still in operation.


The “clever plan”

So, how were Bush and Blair going to justify invading Iraq to the world?  In March 2002, they differed on how this should be done.


On the one hand, Blair wanted to make the case in terms of disarming Iraq as laid down in Security Council resolutions.  His “clever plan” was to persuade the Security Council to pass a resolution demanding that Iraq re-admit the inspectors, but on terms that would make it impossible for Saddam Hussein to accept.  In that event, there would be a reasonable possibility that the Security Council would authorise military action, ostensibly to disarm Iraq of its “weapons of mass destruction”, and, as a byproduct, the Iraqi regime would be overthrown.  This was the plan he sought to put into operation in March 2002 in order to dress up regime change as disarmament.


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 Britain to join with the US in an invasion without focusing on the issue of “weapons of mass destruction”.


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 [12].


In similar vein, Sir Christopher Meyer reported in his memo to Manning that if the US “wanted to act with partners, there had to be a strategy for building support for military action against Saddam”.  He continued: “I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors … ” [13]


The leaked minutes of a high powered meeting on Iraq in Downing Street on 23 July 2002 provided further evidence.  There, Blair is recorded as saying:


“… 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.” [16]


Those are not the words of a person dedicated to the disarmament of Iraq in accordance with Security Council resolutions, a process that required UN inspectors to be on the ground in Iraq.  On the contrary, as I’ve said, Blair’s plan was to put conditions on the re-entry of inspectors so that they would never be allowed in again. 


Consistent with this plan, when on 16 September 2002 Iraq stated its willingness to allow the inspectors back in, the US and the UK blocked their re-entry.  It is worth noting that, around this time, he told the House of Commons:


“… [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.” [17]


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 [18] unanimously.  It stated unambiguously that Iraq was in breach of the disarmament obligations laid down by the Council, but gave Iraq a final opportunity to mend its ways, co-operate with inspectors and disarm properly. 


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 [19], which was designed to set terms that Iraq couldn’t accept.  For example, it allowed (a) the US/UK and other permanent members of the Security Council to be represented on any inspection team with external armed protection and (b) the establishment of no-fly/no-drive zones, exclusion zones, and/or ground and air transit corridors, enforced by external armed force.  And, in the event of Iraq refusing to admit UN inspectors on those terms, which no self-respecting sovereign state would accept, the draft resolution authorised member states “to use all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the area”.


So, if the draft resolution had been passed by the Council, and if Iraq had refused to accept inspectors on the terms laid down in it, the US/UK would have been unambiguously authorised by the Security Council to take military action against Iraq forthwith.


But, the US/UK draft resolution wasn’t passed.  Instead, at the instigation of France, it was amended to remove the terms that would have been unacceptable to Iraq.  The explicit authorisation of military action was also removed.  This amended resolution was passed as resolution 1441 on 8 November 2002, and UN inspectors returned to Iraq.  The “clever plan” to “wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors” had failed.


Another excuse – non-cooperation

So, the Prime Minister had to manufacture another excuse to justify taking military action against Iraq.  It had to be that Iraq was not co-operating with the inspectors, in the manner required by resolution 1441.


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.  Iraq even allowed the destruction of its Al Samoud missiles that had a range that was marginally (if at all) beyond the 150km permitted by Security Council resolution 687.


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 [20], 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 Iraq: How regime change was dressed up as disarmament [4]).


Use of force “legal”, says Goldsmith

On 17 March 2003, in a written answer in the House of Lords [21], the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, declared that the UK had the authority of the Security Council to use force against Iraq.  A UK invasion of Iraq would be “legal”.


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 [5].  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 Iraq in the 1990s, for example, for the bombing of Iraq in December 1998 in Operation Desert Fox.  At that time, when Robin Cook was Foreign Secretary, the Government claimed that the bombing was authorised under resolution 678 passed on 29 November 1990 [22], which approved the use of force for the very different purpose of expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait.


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 Council found Iraq to be in breach of the terms of 687, then the Security Council authority in 678 to take military action against Iraq instantly revived – and every state in the world had Security Council approval to attack Iraq.


The US went one better, taking the convenient view that, if any state in the world was of the opinion that Iraq was in breach of 687, then the authority in 678 instantly revived.  In other words, at any time since April 1991 the US (or, for example, Iran) could have attacked Iraq with the authority of the Security Council, providing it was of the opinion that Iraq was in breach of 687.


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 Iraq was in breach of its disarmament obligations.  This is what the Government tried to get in the so-called “second resolution” [23].  The draft of this had one operative paragraph, which said:


“[The Security Council] Decides that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it by resolution 1441(2002)”


Voting for that meant agreeing with the proposition that Iraq had failed to comply with its disarmament obligations in 687 and subsequent resolutions.  But, only 4 out of the 15 members of the Security Council agreed with that proposition when the resolution was taken off the table just prior to the invasion.  The rest believed that the UN weapons inspectors should be allowed to continue with their work.  The British version of the 678 revival argument was therefore inoperative.


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 Butler report [24] (paragraphs 383-5), on 14 March 2003 the Attorney-General wrote to the Prime Minister to ascertain the UK’s opinion on this matter.  He sought confirmation that


“. . . it is unequivocally the Prime Minister’s view that Iraq has committed further material breaches as specified in paragraph 4 of resolution 1441”


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 that Iraq has failed so to comply and therefore Iraq was at the time of resolution 1441 and continues to be in material breach.”


and to conclude that 678 authority had revived.  So, the use of force against Iraq in March 2003 was “legal”, having been authorised by the Security Council in November 1990.


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 Iraq and wanted the inspection process to continue. Nevertheless, he declared the use of force against Iraq in March 2003 to be authorised by the Security Council in a resolution passed over a decade earlier, authorising the use of force for an entirely different purpose, namely, the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.


But, there is no judicial body in the world in a position to declare that the Attorney-General’s conclusion was nonsensical and that the UK’s use of force was “illegal”.  Since the UK has a veto on the Security Council, the Council itself is not in a position to challenge the Attorney-General’s view that in November 1990 it authorised the UK’s use of force in March 2003.  So, the UK can be as imaginative as it can get away with in arguing that the Council has authorised its military action (and the same is true of the other veto-wielding members of the Council).


In practical terms, all military action by the UK is a priori “legal”, since the UK is immune from conviction and punishment by the Security Council for carrying it out, and there’s only a very small chance that any other body will bring the UK, or its political leaders, to book.  The statute of the International Criminal Court doesn’t include the crime of aggression, so the Prime Minister can rest assured that he won’t be indicted for it.


Of course, wherever possible, the UK likes to say that its military action has been authorised by the Security Council, in order to justify its actions domestically and internationally, and the more clearly the Council has given authority for military action the better the justification it provides.  On this occasion, it required a considerable stretch of the imagination to reach the conclusion that authority had been granted.


Ideally, the Prime Minister wanted a resolution overtly authorising military action against Iraq to disarm it of its “weapons of mass destruction”.  That’s what he tried, and failed, to get with the draft resolution that eventually became 1441.


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 Iraq.


“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.” [25]


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 Iraq had an arsenal of proscribed weapons and was manufacturing more, there was no need to invade Iraq, and overthrow the regime, in order to disarm it.


Inspection could have continued indefinitely and it stands to reason that, while inspection and other forms of surveillance were going on, Iraq’s ability to manufacture agents and weapons and deploy them, assuming it had a mind to, would be greatly inhibited.


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 US military timetable dictated that regime change should begin.


Intelligence “sexed up”

The most fundamental aspect of the Prime Minister’s deceit on the road to war with Iraq was to pretend that his objective was disarmament, when from the outset it was regime change. 


Another aspect was the exaggeration of the known intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”, notably in the dossier, Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government [26], published on 24 September 2002.  The purpose of this was to portray Iraq as a grave threat to its neighbours and the world in general in order to work up public enthusiasm for taking military action against it.


I set out the extensive evidence of this exaggeration in my pamphlet Iraq: Lies, Half-truths & Omissions published in November 2003 [2] and my evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in November 2003 [8].


The Government’s dossier made extravagant claims, not only that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and weapons-related material, and various delivery systems, left over from before the Gulf War, but also that it had re-established facilities to produce these weapons, and was trying to re-establish its nuclear weapons programme.  So, it was not just a matter of getting rid of remnants manufactured before the Gulf War: Iraq was producing more weapons in September 2002, and therefore the threat from Iraq was increasing all the time.


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 [27].  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.


45-minute claim

Here is one of the many examples of the gross manipulation of intelligence that the Government got up to.  Famously, the dossier stated that Iraq was “able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so”.   A year later, the ISC report confirmed that this claim, which appeared not once but four times in the dossier, was of very little significance.


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 Cyprus.  But, the dossier didn’t make that clear.


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 was BRITS 45 mins FROM DOOM.  Many people formed the opinion that Iraq was capable of striking London with a nuclear weapon.  The British public was grossly misled.


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.” [28]


The proposition that Ministers did not attempt to correct the misleading press reports because the press would not carry such a correction is risible.  A Downing Street press release carrying a correction would have been headline news, not just in Britain, but around the world, and would have destroyed the credibility of the dossier at a stroke – which may account for the absence of a correction from Downing Street.


Lies about France

Another serious example of the Government misleading the public concerned France’s stance at the Security Council.  The Prime Minister lied to the House of Commons about this on 18 March 2003 in the debate about taking military action.  The resolution endorsing military action, passed by the House on that day, had the same lie embedded in it.


The lie was that, in a TV interview on 10 March 2003, President Chirac had said that France would always veto Security Council authorisation of military action against Iraq.  In fact, he said that, if a vote was called on the “second resolution” then before the Council,


France will vote ‘no’ because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, i.e. to disarm Iraq(see English translation of interview [29])


However, he also made it clear that France would support military action if UN inspectors told 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, 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;” [30]


In proposing the motion, the Prime Minister identified the Permanent Member as France, which, he said, had undermined support for a second resolution:


“Last Monday [10 March], we were getting very close with it [the second resolution]. We very nearly had the majority agreement. …


“Yes, there were debates about the length of the ultimatum, but the basic construct was gathering support. Then, on Monday night, France said that it would veto a second resolution, whatever the circumstances.” [30]


That is a lie.


Iraq and al-Qaida

Unlike the US administration, the British Government did not give the impression that Saddam Hussein’s regime supported al-Qaida,.  (For US lying on this, see my pamphlet Iraq WAS a US ally in "war on terror" [6]).  However, a major part of the Prime Minister’s case for taking military action against Iraq was that there was “a real and present danger” that chemical and biological weapons would find their way from Iraq to al-Qaida or associated groups.


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.” [31]


When he said that, the Prime Minister was aware that the intelligence services had no evidence that Iraq had considered using chemical and biological agents in terrorist attacks or had passed such agents on to al-Qaida.  He was also aware that, in the judgment of the intelligence services, a collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of al-Qaida or associated groups, whether or not as a deliberate Iraqi regime policy.


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 Iraq.  The Prime Minister chose not to divulge to Parliament that the intelligence services shared their view.


Terrorist threat to Britain

Most likely, the bombings in London on 7 July 2005 would not have taken place if Britain hadn’t been a party to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.  Two of the London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan [32] and Shehzad Tanweer [33], made videos prior to their deaths and they both stated clearly that it was British intervention in the Muslim world, and Iraq in particular, which motivated their action.


Nevertheless, the political establishment in Britain was more or less unanimous that British intervention in Iraq played no part in bringing about the bombings.  Instead, we were told that Western democracies are all under threat from Muslim extremists, who want to destroy our way of life (whatever that means) and it was simply Britain’s turn on 7 July 2005.


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, Iraq has become a dominant issue for a range of extremist groups and individuals in the UK and Europe.”


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 Iraq.  The following extracts from it were published in The Sunday Times on 2 April 2006 in an article, entitled Iraq terror backlash in UK 'for years':


Iraq is likely to be an important motivating factor for some time to come in the radicalisation of British Muslims and for those extremists who view attacks against the UK as legitimate.”


“There is a clear consensus within the UK extremist community that Iraq is a legitimate jihad and should be supported. Iraq has re-energised and refocused a wide range of networks in the UK.”


“We judge that the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term. It has reinforced the determination of terrorists who were already committed to attacking the West and motivated others who were not.”


“Some jihadists who leave Iraq will play leading roles in recruiting and organising terrorist networks, sharing their skills and possibly conducting attacks. It is inevitable that some will come to the UK.” [34]


This was the considered assessment of the British intelligence services a few months before al-Qaida struck in London.  Clearly, British military action against Iraq was an outstanding success in putting Britain firmly on al-Qaida’s hit list.


(See my pamphlet The London bombings: Britain's blood price [35]).


Humanitarian intervention?

179 British military personnel were killed and 315 seriously wounded during the invasion and occupation of Iraq.


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 Syria and Jordan, and perhaps another 2 million are displaced internally.  All this, thanks to US/UK intervention.


We will never know how many Iraqis have been killed, because, in the famous words of General Tommy Franks, the US commander of the invading forces: “We don’t do body counts”.  If the bodies are Iraqi, he should have added to be accurate.


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 [36] (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):


“Of course, 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 in Iraq are occurring every day as a result of the rule of Saddam Hussein. He will be responsible for many, many more deaths even in one year than we will be in any conflict.” [37]


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 [38], 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.



David Morrison

7 January 2010