The Original American Malcontent

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Some fine reporting by the BBC

Tony & the Truth

JOHN WARE: Two years ago tonight the Prime Minister was preparing to broadcast to the nation he was taking the country to war.

TONY BLAIR: Tonight British Service men and women are engaged from air, land and sea. Their mission – to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

WARE: Mr Blair had said the intelligence services had showed beyond doubt that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

BLAIR: There has been a real concern on our part not to exaggerate the intelligence that we get.

WARE: Yet some of Mr Blair's claims about the intelligence were exaggerated.

BLAIR: The intelligence picture they paint is one accumulated over the last four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative.

WARE: We now know that was not quite the picture the intelligence services painted to him.

ROBIN COOK: He knew perfectly well what he was doing. I think there was a lack of candour.

BLAIR: I cannot bring myself to say that I misrepresented the evidence since I do not accept that I did.

WARE: But there are many in the country who think he did.

Secretary, D-Notice Committee
The government perhaps allowed the public to be misled as to the degree of certainty about weapons of mass destruction.

WARE: The Prime Minister remains utterly convinced he was right to take military action. This is the story of what Mr Blair didn't tell us before sending British troops into battle.

BLAIR: What I do not in any way accept is that there was any deception of anyone.

WARE: Is he someone whose word you still trust?

First Secretary, UK Mission to the UN
I personally don’t trust him, no. No, not on.. this was such a fundamental.. such an important, such a huge thing to send young men off to war. I'm afraid the government did not tell the whole truth about the alleged threat that Iraq posed, that's why I think it's a tawdry story.

Reconstructions in this film are based on public sources and conversations with some participants

8 March 2002

WARE: On Friday the 8th March 2002 a top secret briefing paper on Iraq was sent to the Prime Minister. It was almost exactly 12 months before he took Britain to war.


BLAIR: [knock on door] Come in.

Morning Tony, your papers.

BLAIR: Thank you.

Mr Blair was told the Bush administration was considering overthrowing Saddam Hussein and invasion was the only way of doing this, but it would require a legal justification. The Prime Minister was advised: "None currently exists." Nevertheless Mr Blair would make a commitment to regime change, this would be a radical departure in British foreign policy which he withheld from most members of his cabinet.

11 March

On Monday morning the American Vice President Dick Cheney arrived at No.10. The Prime Minister had been briefed that Saddam posed no greater threat now than in recent years. But at his press conference Mr Blair made no mention of that crucial qualification. He had decided that he and President Bush were going to row back the tide of proliferation and that Iraq was the place to start.

11 March 2002

What evidence can you lay before the world that Saddam Hussein does have, or shortly will have, the capability to threaten not only his own people but countries in Western Europe and indeed the United States itself?

BLAIR: If I can answer first of all that there is a threat from Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction that he has acquired is not in doubt at all. Of course Al-Qaeda would use chemical or biological or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction if they could.

14 March

WARE: The next day in Washington Mr Blair's foreign affairs and security adviser met the Bush administration. Sir David Manning sent a note to Mr Blair of his conversation. What Sir David said leaked out last autumn.

From: Sir David Manning,
Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs Adviser
To: Prime Minister

We spent a long time at dinner on Iraq. It is clear that Bush is grateful for your support and has registered that you are getting flack. I said you would not budge in your support for regime change.

Foreign Secretary 1997-2001
Leader of the House 2001-2003
I think the real dishonesty of the government's position is that Tony Blair could not be frank with the British people about the real reason why he believed Britain had to be part of an invasion which was to prove to the United States President that we were his most reliable, most sound ally. That was why he committed himself to President Bush. I don’t deny that Tony Blair genuinely believed that there were illegal weapons inside Iraq but the evidence for it was always very thin.

WARE: But he believed it?

COOK: The reality is that he believed in the evidence because he needed to believe in the evidence.

WARE: Mr Blair was certainly warned the intelligence was thin by the government's key joint intelligence committee. Although the committee advised that Saddam was able to produce chemical and biological agent, they also said there was no firm evidence he was still making weapons. And Mr Blair was told the available intelligence was sporadic and patchy. What little intelligence there was coming in from Iraq was seen by the chief intelligence analyst on weapons of mass destruction at the Ministry of Defence.

Defence Intelligence Staff
The intelligence we had certainly wasn't detailed. I mean this was one of our major problems, there were some very general statements in intelligence that raised suspicions. It certainly didn't allow definitive statements or definitive assessments to be made.

WARE: In Washington the British ambassador had been discussing Mr Blair's commitment to regime change with the Bush administration at Sunday lunch.

18 March

MEYER: Memo to Sir David Manning, No.10 Downing Street. Confidential and personal.

WARE: Sir Christopher Meyer reported back to No.10 on this latest meeting.

From: Sir Christopher Meyer,
Ambassador to the USA
To: Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs Adviser
Point 2 on Iraq, I opened my… sticking very closely to the script that you used with Condo Rice last week. 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.


WARE: But No.10 already had a plan for this.

Sunday Times 24 March 2002
Alistair Campbell, Downing Street's communications chief, told American reporters last week that a dossier of allegations compiled by Whitehall and the intelligence services would be presented publicly. The dossier would prove, sources in London said, that Saddam is manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.

The Mirror 12 March 2003
The Prime Minister is set to use the dossier of death to convince Britain to join the US in attacking Iraq.

WARE: In Whitehall officials liaising between the intelligence services and the media on sensitive issues heard there was disquiet at using such week intelligence for public relations. In charge of the defence notice committee was Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson.

Secretary, D-Notice Committee
The middle ranking people had severe doubts and that was apparent to me and people like me. They knew that Saddam Hussein had had weapons of mass destruction and an R&D capability and they were not sure what he'd done with it since the First Gulf War, so they thought he could have it but they weren't sure.

WARE: But the Prime Minister was sure, in fact he said he was certain.

4 April 2002

BLAIR: We know that he has stock piles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons.

WARE: On what did Mr Blair base this assertion. No recent assessment from the Joint Intelligence Committee had claimed as much.

From: Peter Ricketts,
Foreign Office Political Director
To: Foreign Secretary

22nd March, 2002. Confidential and personal to the Secretary of State headed Iraq Advice to the Prime Minister.

WARE: The Political Director of the Foreign Office, Peter Ricketts, wrote a candid note to the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He advised that the Prime Minister and the President should get the threat in perspective.

RICKETTS: First the threat, the truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes but our tolerance of them post 11th September.

WARE: To persuade the public war might be necessary, Mr Ricketts said the government would have to be more convincing.

RICKETTS: To get public and Parliamentary support for military operations we have to be convincing that the threat is so serious / imminent that it is worth sending our troops to die for.

WARE: The Prime Minister made his claim about Saddam having stockpiles of weapons as he was about to meet President Bush at his ranch in Texas. No.10 seems to have had high hopes of Mr Blair's influence over Mr Bush.


ANDREW MARR REPORTING: The word that is being used in No.10 quite remarkably, I think, is that Tony Blair regards himself as President Bush's strategist when it comes to Iraq. He is as keen.. at least as keen as President Bush to see the end of Saddam Hussein and wants him out. What they will be discussing is how to get there.

WARE: The President wanted to know from his closest ally if he could expect coalition forces to help an invasion. Mr Blair wanted to know if Mr Bush would revive the Middle East Peace Process before any bombing started. But this seems not to have been set as a condition by Mr Blair, it was more of a "big ask" an official present at the summit told us.

BUSH: We'll see everybody tomorrow.

REPORTER: Mr President, will the Secretary….

BUSH: As is said, we'll see you tomorrow, and I know you can't wait and neither can I.


BUSH: And neither can the Prime Minister for that matter.

WARE: Privately Mr Blair had already promised the Bush administration he wouldn't budge in his support for regime change. But as No.10 had also explained to the Americans, Mr Blair had to manage press, a parliament and public opinion, it was very different from anything in the States. So the Prime Minister was much more nuanced in public than his host about his policy.

6 April 2002

BUSH: Good morning.

BLAIR: You know it has always been our policy that Iraq would be a better place without Saddam Hussein, but how we now proceed in this situation, how we make sure that this threat that is posed by weapons of mass destruction is dealt with, that is a matter that is open. And when the time comes for taking those decisions we will tell people about those decisions.

WARE: This seems to have been too coded for the plain speaking President, he left no doubt about where he was going.

BUSH: Maybe I should be a little less direct and be a little more nuanced and say we support regime change.

WARE: In New York at Britain's UN mission the diplomat responsible for Iraq had no idea No.10 was now committed to helping the Americans overthrow Saddam. In meetings with other diplomats he was still promoting British policy towards Iraq as being the containment of any threat through sanctions and weapons inspections.

First Secretary, UK Mission to the UN
This is what we were instructed to say. The public argument was of course that it was illegal. You can't just go around and topple governments you don’t like, that's not legal, and that's what we would say in the UN because the UN is a place of law and of rules. But privately what we would discuss with our allies was that we thought it was a bad idea because we thought it would be destabilising and could potentially lead to chaos in Iraq.

WARE: He must have felt, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a prat, I mean talking to the State Department promoting one policy when in fact presumably people in the State Department knew jolly well that the part of the government.. the British Government that really mattered, namely Downing Street, was promoting a completely… was signed up anyway to a totally different policy.

ROSS: Yes, I think that's more or less right.

April 20 / April 11 2002
Blair dossier on Iraq is delayed indefinitely.

WARE: In London there was still no sign of No.10's much heralded intelligence dossier which promised to show why Saddam was a threat to Britain.

21 April 2002

DAVID FROST: Someone else said to the FT it was insufficient to convince critics within the Labour Party that the full scale offensive against Iraq was justified. Is that why it was pulled?

BLAIR: No, and it wasn't pulled. Both of those things are absolutely wrong.

WARE: Absolutely wrong? A memo has since been leaked that shows the Financial Times was on to something.

From: Peter Ricketts,
Foreign Office Political Director
To: Foreign Secretary
I am relieved that you decided to postpone publication of the unclassified document. My meeting yesterday showed there was more work to ensure that the figures are accurate and consistent with those of the US. But even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years. The programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.


WARE: But the American military were stepping up manoeuvres in the Gulf region. For the Whitehouse it was no longer whether there was going to be an invasion, it was when.

Director of Policy Planning
US State Department 2001-2003
Well the first time I came away persuaded that a war was 99% likely was in early July of 2002 during one of my regular sessions with Condoleeza Rice, then the National Security Adviser. I was uneasy about it, thought that it raised questions to me at least whether it was worth it, and when I began to raise this concerns Condi's reaction was essentially save your breath, hold your fire, this decision has pretty much been made, this is where the President is.

WARE: By now MPs were asking Mr Blair about British military planning.

16 July 2002

….are we then preparing for possible military action in Iraq?

BLAIR: No, there are no decisions that have been taken about military action.

WARE: True, no formal military commitment had been given, but British troops were already preparing for possible armed action. The very question Mr Blair had been asked. As he spoke, Britain had already been participating for three weeks in joint war planning with the Americans.

BLAIR: I constantly say to people there are no decisions that have been made in relation to Iraq at all.

Foreign Secretary 1997-2001
Leader of the House 2001-2003
It's perfectly plain from the events that Tony Blair probably committed himself to an invasion back in spring of 2002, he could never openly admit to that, he could never be frank that his main motivation was to demonstrate Britain was the closest ally to a republican President of the United States.

23 July

WARE: A week later the Prime Minister chaired a highly sensitive meeting. It may prove to be one of the most significant on his road to war. Just back from Washington was the head of MI6. "Military action, he reported, was inevitable.

Reconstruction based on Lord Butler's Inquiry

WARE: Several well placed sources have told us that Sir Richard Dearlove was minuted as saying: "The facts and the intelligence were being fixed round the policy by the Bush administration." By 'fixed' the MI6 chief meant that the Americans were trawling for evidence to reinforce their claim that Saddam was a threat. Not for the first time the Foreign Secretary questioned whether the threat was sufficient to justify invasion.

Author "Lawless World"
My understanding is that at that meeting Jack Straw made clear I think his view that "the case was thin" as it was put and that other countries, such as Libya or Iran or North Korea, had a greater weapons of mass destruction capability than Iraq.

WARE: The Prime Minister was now in a race against time to persuade Labour MPs and the public that intelligence on Iraq justified invasion. But as it stood the government knew the intelligence might not be convincing. Two thirds of MI6's reports on Iraq came from just two main sources. MI6 was now tasked to extract as much intelligence as possible from their few agents.

Defence Intelligence Staff
There was an appeal, if you like, for people to look and think very closely about the evidence that was available.

WARE: This intelligence trawl was intended to build up the government's dossier. News that the dossier was going to be reworked soon spread around Whitehall.

JONES: It was mentioned to me by a colleague in the Margins of a meeting in Whitehall. Our shared reaction was that that would be a considerable challenge because of the relatively sparse nature of the intelligence available on Iraq's WMD.

WARE: The Bush administration was so convinced the British Prime Minister had committed himself to regime change that some of them began to talk publicly about having allies.


United States Under Secretary of State
Let there be no mistake, our policy insists on regime change in Baghdad. We are content that at the appropriate moment we will have the requisite degree of international support.

But if you don’t have it, and all the indications are that at the moment you wont, then what?

BOLTON: We will have it Mr Humphries.

WARE: Another Bush insider also said he was confident about one ally in particular – Britain.

US Defence Policy Board
Our European allies are just not relevant to this, and the one of some importance, the United Kingdom, is, I believe, going to be with us.

WARE: Remarks like these put the Foreign Office in a spin. The Foreign Secretary flew to America to interrupt the holiday of the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell. "We understand" Jack Straw complained "you've outed us." He said: "The British government had yet to prepare public opinion."


"Stop this filthy attack, any excuse to bomb Iraq. Tony Blair take care."

WARE: Half the country was still opposed to war. Mr Blair decided now was the time to publish the dossier, the Joint Intelligence Committee was to approve. The demands from Downing Street on the intelligence services to provide more material became urgent.

"No.10, through the Chairman, want the document to be as strong as possible within the bounds of available intelligence. This is therefore a last call for any items of intelligence that agencies think can and should be included."

WARE: Was Downing Street now doing what the chief of MI6 had warned that the Bush Administration was doing, trawling around for new intelligence to fit its new policy.

At the Hutton inquiry the Prime Minister was asked why he chose September to publish the dossier.

Reconstruction based on Prime Minister's evidence to Lord Hutton's Inquiry

We have also heard that on the 3rd September you do announce that the dossier is going to be published.


What changed?

BLAIR: What changed were really two things which came together. First of all there was a tremendous amount of information and evidence coming across my desk as to the weapons of mass destruction and the programmes associated with it that Saddam had. There was also a renewed sense of urgency again in the way that this was being publicly debated.

WARE: It now seems less surprising that so much information was coming across the Prime Minister's desk, after all MI6 had gone looking for it following that crucial meeting chaired by him in July when it was decided to build up the intelligence case.

WARE: Mr Blair has always denied the purpose of the dossier was to make the case for war. As the Americans built up their forces in the Gulf, he kept saying: "No decisions had been taken." Yet privately he had been told war was inevitable which might explain why the Prime Minister recalled parliament in September to launch the dossier.

24 September 2002

BLAIR: I am aware of course that people are going to have to take elements of this on the good faith of our intelligence services. But this is what they are telling me,. the British Prime Minister and my senior colleagues. The intelligence picture they paint is one accumulated over the last 4 years, it is extensive, detailed, and authoritative.

WARE: True the Joint Intelligence Committee had changed Iraq had a chemical and biological weapons capability. But only two weeks earlier they'd reminded the Prime Minister their judgment was based on limited intelligence, not that you'd have known that from the dossier.

It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons which could be activated within 45 minutes.

WARE: The government's claims that Iraq was now actively making weapons which could be swiftly deployed were based substantially on just two new intelligence sources.

12 September

Both sources had supplied this information since MI6's call in July went out to build up the intelligence base. Mr Blair was briefed about both sources by the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Richard Dearlove, just days before he presented his dossier to Parliament. Sir Richard told Mr Blair that one of the two new sources was claiming to know where chemical agent was being produced but he was untried and untested.

Reconstruction based on Lord Butler's Inquiry

DEARLOVE: I'd like to brief you on SIS' main sources, including a new source on trial. The new source is potentially important. I can give you our understanding of his access, however the case is developmental and the source remains unproven. But if you're happy I'll….

WARE: The second new source was linked to an Iraqi opposition group with an obvious interest in toppling Saddam. SIS had only three other main sources, and Mr Blair was told their reports were unremarkable or hearsay. What the Prime Minister told Parliament, however, had none of these qualifications.

24 September 2002

BLAIR: His weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working, the weapons of mass destruction programme is not shut down, it is up and running now.

WARE: Yes saying you think that all the way through he knew how thin it was.

Foreign Secretary 1997-2001
Leader of the House 2001-2003
He saw the evidence, he probably saw more of the evidence than any other single person in government, therefore he was well placed to judge how thin it was.

WARE: But he said it was extensive, detailed and authoritative. Are you saying he made that….

COOK: I think you'll have to ask him how he justifies that.

WARE: But this is quite an important point, this gap between what we now know he knew and what he said in public. You still are of the view that that gap can be explained by good faith, not by dishonesty.

COOK: I've no doubt he believed that those weapons were there. What surprised me, astonished me, about the September dossier was how one-sided it was. It was propaganda. It was not an honest presentation of intelligence.

24 September 2002

BLAIR: There has been a real concern on our part not to exaggerate the intelligence that we get but I have to say that.. I mean one of the things that is difficult to reflect for very obvious reasons is the credibility of it and we rate the credibility of what we have in relation to this very high. I'll say no more than that.

WARE: But there wasn't much more to say anyway about the intelligence on Saddam's weapons. Lord Butler's review of Britain's intelligence on Iraq said: "We were struck by the relative thinness of the intelligence base."

By early autumn the Americans were planning for a likely invasion early in 2003. The Ministry of Defence stepped up Britain's Iraq planning. At Camp David the Prime Minister met President Bush, there he urged Mr Bush to seek international backing through the UN for any action against Saddam. Mr Blair has subsequently said this about what transpired at the summit.

BLAIR: There was no detailed discussion of the military option at that time because we believed that it was possible to avoid conflict.

8 July 2003

WARE: No detailed discussion about the military option but there was a firm commitment by Mr Blair to provide British troops. According to a more recent account source direct to the President himself. The Prime Minister has also said this about what happened at Camp David:

2 June 2003

BLAIR: The idea that I made some secret agreement with George Bush back last September that we would invade Iraq in any event at a particular time is also completely and totally untrue.

WARE: Again the two leaders may not have agreed a particular time for an invasion, but Mr Blair had already decided the UN should not have the last word as to whether they should invade. When the Prime Minister pledged British troops, he is said to have looked the President in the eye and pledged: "I'm with you." The President then told Mr Blair's aides: "Your man has Cahones – Spanish slang for male courage. For Mr Blair, UN weapons inspectors were the key to getting rid of Saddam. They had packed their bags in Iraq in 1998 after the dictator had ceased meaningful cooperation. The Prime Minister and the President had decided to get them back by means of a new disarmament resolution. We now know that in Washington in March 2002 there had been a discussion at the British Embassy on how sending back the inspectors might be used to trigger an invasion. The Ambassador, Sir Christopher Meyer, sent an account of that discussion back to London. It has since leaked out.

From: Sir Christopher Meyer,
Ambassador to the USA
To: Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs Adviser
We backed regime change but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option.

WARE: This clever plan involved getting the UN Security Council to pass a tough new disarmament resolution.

[memo continues] The US could go it alone if it wanted, but if it wanted to act with partners there had to be strategy for building support for military action. I then went through the need to wrong foot Saddam on the inspectors.

I then went through the need to wrong foot Saddam on the inspectors.

Wrong foot means to trick or trip up. Was Mr Blair going to the UN to seek a legal device, a new disarmament resolution confident that it would trip up Saddam so that he could join the Americans in an invasion which would otherwise be illegal. As the Prime Minister was advised early on regime change was unlawful.

If you find a legal device for something which starts out as being illegal, does that make it legal?

UK Ambassador to the UN
Well I don’t agree with your slightly pejorative use of the word device. The fact is that the…

WARE: Route… route.

GREENSTOCK: … business of the first Gulf War had not been finished in disarmament terms. This had to be dealt with. It wasn't a device, it was unfinished business which is a different matter.

WARE: Are you clear in your own mind now, what was really propelling the Prime Minister was regime change, or was it disarmament.

Foreign Secretary 1997-2001
Leader of the House 2001-2003
No, what was propelling the Prime Minister was the determination that he would be the closest ally to George Bush. His problem is that George Bush's motivation was regime change. It was not disarmament.

Radio Monte Carlo Middle East

BLAIR: So far as our objective, it is disarmament, not regime change. That is our objective. I've got no doubt either that the purpose of our challenge from the United Nations is disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, it's not regime change.

November 2002

WARE: In November the UN weapons inspectors did return to Iraq, the British and Americans having persuaded the Security Council to pass a tough new disarmament resolution 1441.

8 November 2002

BLAIR: Iraq now has a final opportunity to comply with its international and legal obligation by giving up once and for all its weapons of mass destruction. If it does not, then the consequences are clear.

WARE: The Iraqis were slow to give information, but this time they didn't stop the inspectors from having unimpeded access to every suspect site. But the Inspectors were not turning up any chemical or biological weapons.

Executive Chairman UNMOVIC
The further he came of that in January and February 2003 the more sceptical the guy became, in particular when we found no weapons of mass destruction in about three dozens of sites which had been given to us by intelligence, and then we said to ourselves they claim these are the best sites they have, and if this is the best, what is the rest?

January 2003

The Paras will soon be on their way, just part of a British deployment as big as the Gulf War.

WARE: But British troops wouldn't be able to fight alongside the Americans unless government lawyers concluded that an invasion was justified by international law. The Prime Minister trained as a lawyer and often stressed that he would be bound by this.

25 July 2002

BLAIR: What is important is that whatever action we take, should we take action, it is done in accordance with international law.

WARE: But Mr Blair had a problem. While troops were gearing up for war, Foreign Office lawyers said the new UN resolution 1441 on its own did not make war lawful. The Security Council would have to vote for a second resolution explicitly authorising war. But the Foreign Secretary thought a second resolution was not essential. Essential or not, the Prime Minister was desperate to get one, otherwise it would be difficult to carry the country or Labour MPs to keep to his commitment to President Bush. But without American diplomatic muscle he hadn't a hope of securing a second resolution.

Director of Policy Planning
US State Department 2001-2003
I don’t know of any American enthusiasm for a second resolution. The feeling was that 1441 had in it just about everything you'd want, all the demands of Iraq as well as the legitimacy if you will that you'd need when it called for all serious and potentially serious consequences.

WARE: At the end of January the Prime Minister flew to Washington. He urged the President to help him win over the UN Security Council. The President granted his closest ally this as a favour, though he didn't sound very enthusiastic.

31 January 2003

BUSH: Any attempt to drive the process on for months will be resisted by the United States, and as I understand the Prime Minister, I'm loathe to put words in his mouth but he's also said weeks not months.

WARE: Privately the Americans had explained to the British that they would work to get a second resolution but only so long as it didn't delay their military timetable which had scheduled an invasion in about a month. On his return to Britain Mr Blair was questioned about the Bush administration's commitment to helping Britain get a second resolution.

3 February 2003

Is there any difference of opinion at all or difference of emphasis between the US and United Kingdom government on the need and extreme desirability of a second UN resolution?

BLAIR: Mr Speaker, no, I don’t think there is any difference between us on this.

WARE: But he knew that there was. No.10 was pressing the Americans to delay the invasion to give the inspectors more time to find weapons. Without them Mr Blair had been told by his own officials he was most unlikely to get a second resolution. Early in the New Year the British had asked for a delay until April, but the Americans just wiped that away an official told us.


In Britain, opposition to war was becoming more vocal. A million protesters in London took to the streets, but that didn't stop the military momentum. Thousands of British troops were now training in the desert. In public the Prime Minister continued to maintain no decisions had been taken. But on the 20th February he confided in Hans Blix that one had.

Executive Chairman UNMOVIC
He said, if I remember rightly, that it was until the end of the month that action was fairly imminent at that time, and "end of the month" was an expression that he used.


WARE: Until now Iraqi cooperation had been limited, but by early March it improved dramatically as these pictures, never before seen, show. The Iraqis allowed inspectors to destroy Al-Samud missiles. No.10's clever plan was not going quite to plan.

BLIX: As we got closer to the war the will to go to war went up like this but the evidence went down in the other direction.

WARE: By the end of the first week of March 27 Al-Samud missiles had been destroyed and the Iraqis were committed to the UN destroying all 97. But even before the destruction started, the Prime Minister dismissed this. Saddam was still playing cat and mouse.

28 February 2003

BLAIR: The moment I heard earlier in the week that Saddam Hussein was saying he would not destroy the missiles was the moment that I knew later in the week that he would announce just before Dr Blix reported that he would indeed destroy these missiles. But this is not a time for games.

WARE: But at the UN the head of the weapons inspectors did not share Mr Blair's certainty the dictator was still playing games.

7 March, UN Security Council

BLIX: We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed. One can hardly avoid the impression that after a period of somewhat reluctant cooperation there has been an acceleration of initiatives from the Iraqi side since the end of January.

WARE: Mr Blair has denied he set out to wrong foot Saddam through UN inspections as No.10's clever plan had envisaged. His goal and the President's was disarmament.

8 July 2003

BLAIR: I recall the exact conversation and I said to him look, you have to realise, if Saddam Hussein cooperates fully with the inspectors we have to take yes for an answer. If that happens there's no conflict, and he agreed with that fully.

WARE: But would the American President really take yes for an answer? Mr Bush had already said he was committed to getting rid of Saddam's regime. The dictator may have begun to cooperate meaningfully with the inspectors. But Mr Blair now sought to dissuade the Security Council this was a sham. He needed enough votes to win the second resolution to persuade MPs an invasion would be lawful.

In New York the secret intelligence service MI6 asked for a meeting with the Mexican Ambassador to the UN.

ADOLFO AGUILAR ZINSER: This was in a room, a sealed room that closed like a safe deposit box in a bank, and full of all of this you know.. mystery.

WARE: MI6 were trying to persuade Mexico and other countries on the Security Council that there was an explanation for the failure of the inspectors to find any weapons. Saddam was hiding them.

Mexican Ambassador to the UN
And they had this pile of files on the table and there were three, four officers, and they begin to show us in a map. I asked them: "Do you have full proof of the existence of the weapons in any one of this particular sites that you are referring to?" And the MI6 officer told me: "No, we don’t."

WARE: We don’t?

ZINSER: "We don’t." It was very clear that they didn't have the proof, but they have circumstantial evidence of a funny behaviour, of a suspicious behaviour. But I knew that. We all knew that because that was what we were getting from the inspectors.

WARE: So you left that meeting less convinced than you were, not more convinced, less convinced.

ZINSER: Less convinced.

UK Ambassador to the UN
We didn't have.. you know.. there weren't people inside Iraq, we didn't have people placed inside Saddam's regime. It was all more remote intelligence than that. There were ideas on where this stuff might be. There was a very strong feeling that he might have shifted some of it into Syria or put it in mobile facilities, or… after all, he buried part of his airforce and the cameras in the sky never saw them until the wind blew away the sand and they appeared a few months later. And no, we were convinced there was something there.

WARE: Saddam Hussein had once been the Arab strong man of the Middle East, but now some of his weapons the UN inspectors were checking seemed to be more of a threat to his own soldiers than his neighbours. By early March the Inspectors had searched around 300 sites, no WMD had been found. Mexico and other countries asked Hans Blix how long he needed to be sure if Saddam had actually got any WMD. Three to four months said Blix.

Is it your view now, then looking back, that the British government had, for all practical purposes, signed up to regime change which of course was driving unambiguously the United States.

ROSS: I don’t know that but I believe it.

WARE: You do believe it?

First Secretary, UK Mission to the UN
Yes. If they really believed in disarmament as the goal, then inspections would have been allowed to continue. I think it's pretty clear, looking back, that the military timetable drove the diplomatic timetable.

Foreign Secretary 1997-2001
Leader of the house 2001-2003
His problem was he could not be honest about that, either with the British people or Labour MPs, hence the stress on disarmament.

WARE: If he couldn't be honest about it, that suggests he was dishonest.

COOK: Oh I'd never accuse the Prime Minister of being deliberately untruthful. I think there was a lack of candour.

WARE: No.10 was now warned by Jack Straw that Britain was not going to win enough votes for a second resolution in the short time left to them by the Americans. He advised the Prime Minister to prepare to abandon the quest for one. On the 10th March, No.10's worst fears were confirmed. President Chirac had dramatically announced that France would veto a second resolution if it was put to the vote.

Dramatic reconstruction

CHIRAC: My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, 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 to disarm Iraq.

WARE: In his interview the French President mentioned "this evening" no fewer than four times to stress he didn't think war was justified as of that moment. But Mr Blair seized on only the first half of President Chirac's statement.

March 2003

BLAIR: If France or any other country is simply going to say we will veto no matter what.. well, that's obviously a very difficult position.

WARE: In fact, President Chirac had not said "no matter what" as if forever. He had stressed that if the Iraqis ceased to cooperate with the weapons inspectors, war would become inevitable, it just wasn't today. But in No.10's briefing to the press, neither they nor Mr Blair mentioned this important qualification. Watching these extraordinary events from close quarters in No.10 was Sir Stephen Wall, the Prime Minister's European Affairs Adviser.

Do you think Downing Street wilfully misconstrued what the French President had said?

Prime Minister's European Affairs Adviser
I think that they… I wouldn't say wilfully misconstrued in this sense but I think that Tony Blair and other members of the government were convinced that there were no circumstances in which France was prepared to support action.

WARE: Ever?

WALL: Ever. But if you mean did they take Chirac's words and take them out of the total context in which they were made – undoubtedly.

21 February 2003

WARE: The Sun newspaper had already run banner headlines softening up President Chirac. "Squirm, Worm – Wrigley Wobbler Chirac.

26 February 2003
Stop Squirming."

WARE: Now the Sun accused the French President of being:

Thursday, March 6, 2003
"A cheap tart who puts price before principle".

WARE: We've been told that in No.10 the Prime Minister and Alistair Campbell expressed approval of the Sun's coverage.

12 March 2003
"Jacques Chirac struck the streets of shame. Like all who ply the trade of the harlot, they will catch something very nasty."

WARE: Do you think actually that Downing Street quite deliberately were playing the French Card?

WALL: I think there's no doubt that the French card was deliberately played. I mean…

WARE: Blame it on the French.

WALL: Yeah, I mean death to the French is always a pretty good cry in British politics when you're in a tight corner, knocking the French is not a.. you know.. it's not a bad policy, and this was a tight corner. I mean here was a government that was fighting for its life.

WARE: Ministerial resignations were threatened. The country and MPs divided. The French Embassy complained to the Foreign Office that No.10 had deployed Soviet style disinformation. We understand, the Foreign Office's Political Director responded, what your President said was such a gift. But it was not the French who finally killed off Mr Blair's hopes of winning a second resolution.

Mexican Ambassador to the UN
The British were asking the Americans give us a little more time. It was not France, it was the United States who did not want to give us more time. They did not want to give Saddam Hussein, the United Nations, or the Security Council, or the British for that matter, more time.

US Chief of Naval Operations
I know this, I was just given the order last week to get another 15 ships underway and they're loaded with marines – you all figure.

WARE: With the American forces ready to go, Mr Blair's commitment to President Bush had brought him to a legal crossroads. Foreign Office lawyers still believed that war without the explicit authority of the Security Council voting for a second resolution would be illegal. But help was at hand. This is Lord Goldsmith. As Attorney General he's the government's most senior legal advisor, he's also been described as a loyal Labour Party foot soldier.

Dramatic Reconstruction

Lord Goldsmith was certainly leaving it late to come to a settled view about such a critical issue as whether war with Iraq would be legal.

On the 11th February the Attorney General travelled here to Washington to hear from US government lawyers why they thought going to war without a second resolution was lawful. We've been told by forces in a position to know that until this point Lord Goldsmith was by no means convinced it would be lawful. But after spending a day in Washington he is said to have left with his spine stiffened at least a little.

Two weeks later the Attorney General met with the Prime Minister's inner policy circle at No.10. A week after that he delivered his written advice to the Prime Minister. The advice ran to 13 pages.

Dramatic reconstruction

GOLDSMITH: Minute to Prime Minister dated Friday 7th March 2003, headed….

WARE: We've been told that Lord Goldsmith advised it would be preferable to have a second resolution but that he could make a case for going to war without one. On the other hand, there were risks.

Professor of International Law
University College London
The risks indicated in particular the possibility of legal proceedings against the United Kingdom. My understanding is that the United Kingdom took steps to protect itself against such proceedings for example by beginning the task of preparing legal advisers to assist in the defence of the case. So it was a very equivocal advice. It was a balanced advice.

WARE: The Chief of Defence Staff was not happy with this balanced advice. Admiral Boyce needed to be sure his troops were not at risk of fighting an illegal war. The Admiral required a crystal clear answer from the Attorney general.

Secretary, D-Notice Committee
The Chief of Defence Staff was concerned about having a very clear-cut tick in the box that this war was going to be legal. I heard that what he saw then.. the chief saw then was not the clear-cut tick in the box we were looking for.

WARE: A quarter of the British Army was now battle ready on the Arabian peninsular.

Chief of the General Staff
There are I think two or three ships yet to come in. I would have thought 4 or 5 days would pretty much complete the whole logistic piece. But, even if it were today, it's good to go.

WARE: Fortunately for the Prime Minister the Attorney General's view had continued its evolution to the point of complete clarity. All the caveats had now been stripped out of it.

Dramatic reconstruction

On 13th March Lord Goldsmith informed No.10 it was his clear view that Britain could go to war without a second resolution. So what had changed over the previous month to stiffen his spine still further?

Foreign Secretary 1997-2001
Leader of the House 2001-2003
Nobody can avoid the obvious fact that the view chanted when we found that we couldn't get the second resolution, and I am rather disturbed that there were discussions with the Attorney General at Downing Street. What is important is that the Attorney General should be semidetached, should provide an independent legal view, should not himself become drawn in to the debate and negotiations within government as to what the appropriate course of action is, and I think on this occasion the Chinese Walls got broken down in a way that's damaging for the authority of the post and it needs to be rebuilt.

WARE: The Attorney General has told us he doesn't wish to discuss how he came to his view that the war was legal other than to say it was his own view, genuine and independent.

17 March

However, what has astonished so many senior civil servants is that the Cabinet only had the assurance from the Attorney General that war would be legal just three days before the bombing started.

Reconstruction based on Clare Short's account

BLAIR: Morning everyone. Right, can I ask the Attorney General to set out the legal position on the use of force.

GOLDSMITH: Authority to use force against Iraq exists from the combined effect of resolution 678, 687 and 1441. All of these resolutions were adopted under Chapter 7 at the UN Charter which allowed…

CLARE SHORT: We can all read.

GOLDSMITH: … which allowed…

WARE: The International Development Secretary Clare Short tried to start a discussion about why the Attorney General's opinion was so late and whether he had any doubts about the legality of Britain going to war.

CLARE SHORT: No need to read it out loud.

WARE: But she says the Cabinet was impatient and they were happy to let Lord Goldsmith stick to his prepared text which was just one page, not the earlier 13 pages of advice with caveats and qualifications he'd sent to the Prime Minister. So the Cabinet was never told Mr Blair risked being brought before an international tribunal. To this day No.10 refuses to disclose the Attorney General's legal advice about the risks of going to war without a second resolution.

Prime Minister's European Affairs Adviser
We searched the legal argument to breaking point in my view, and the fact that we didn't have that authority I think does set a dangerous precedent. I regret that I didn't speak my mind to Tony Blair on it. I think that at the end of the day going to war is about the most serious thing you can do in international... It is the most serious thing you can do in international affairs, and if you're going to put people's lives at risk, your own people apart from the civilians in the country where you're attacking, it does have to be the last resort and you do actually need some international authority to do it.

with Saddam
…for standing by George Bush Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain, is in the fight of his life…

… to talk about the President's strongest ally in one Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's asking British law makers to support a war against Iraq. A vote expected in the next few hours. Blair says that the Iraq crisis will determine the shape of international politics.

WARE: The Prime Minister had promised the fullest possible debate in Parliament.

18 March 2003

BLAIR: Mr deputy speaker I beg to move the motion standing on the order paper in my name and those of my…

WARE: Mr Blair told MPs that but for France's threat to veto the second resolution, Britain might have won a majority in the Security Council for invasion.

BLAIR: Last Monday we were getting very close with it. We very nearly had the majority agreement…

WARE: But according to some of the diplomats involved in the actual negotiations, this was not true.

The statement from Mr Blair, and it's one of several in this vein, quotes: "We very nearly had a majority agreement" that doesn't…

Mexican Ambassador to the UN
No, we were never close to have a majority win, never.

WARE: We very nearly achieved agreement he said. What about that one?

ZINSER: We were never close to that. Not that we meant that will have satisfied the Americans.

WARE: The Prime Minister insisted that in going to war, Britain would be upholding the authority of the UN to ensure that Iraq complied with UN disarmament resolutions.

BLAIR: … capacity, I'm afraid, to pass firm resolutions….

Executive Chairman UNMOVIC
I think that's an absurdity that here a minority of the council goes to war to uphold the authority of a majority that is against it.

18 March 2003

BLAIR: We are asked now, seriously, to accept that in the last few years, contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence, he decided unilaterally to destroy these weapons. I say such a claim is palpably absurd.

MEMBERS: Here here.

WARE: Was it palpably absurd?

BLIX: No, it was not, and the inspectors had not really asserted that these things existed. They had calculated material balances and I said here lots of things unaccounted for, and it wasn't absurd that they had destroyed it.

WARE: The Prime Minister won a large majority, but the country at large was still split right down the middle as two years ago tonight he took Britain to war.

20 March 2003

BLAIR: 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.

[Scenes of war aftermath]

WARE: The search for weapons of mass destruction has been abandoned. No WMD has been found. About half of MI6's main sources that were used to build up the Iraq dossier have been withdrawn as unreliable. No.10 has told Panorama the Prime Minister has nothing to add to the facts and findings of the four inquiries that have already been held. But there is one issue that none of these inquiries has focused on, the evolution of Mr Blair's Iraq policy, what he said in public, what he knew in private and whether he can reconcile the two.

If you want to comment on tonight's programme you can visit our website at where we'll also be putting some of the background to tonight's programme.


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