The Chilcott Inquiry was created to explain the decisions that led to England’s participation in the Iraq War. The first section covered the United Kingdom’s strategy towards Iraq from the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait to 2000. London’s main concern during this period all the way to 2003 was Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and nuclear programs. British intelligence believed that Iraq was close to getting a nuclear bomb and had a large and active chemical and biological weapons arsenal. After the Gulf War, the UK committed itself to a containment policy that backed United Nations’ inspectors to destroy Iraq’s weapons programs and a no fly zone to deter any further aggression. This set the stage for Downing Streets’ Iraq strategy all the way up to 2003.
British intelligence painted a worst case scenario about Iraq’s weapons programs before the Gulf War that would continue until the Iraq invasion. In 1990, for instance, there was a report that Iraq could build a nuclear bomb in five years, or launch a crash program and have one in a year. The UK also believed that Iraq had an extensive WMD program, and used a false intelligence report that would continue to be used up until 2003. In 2004, the Butler report found that British intelligence painted the worst picture of Iraq’s WMD and nuclear programs. This was important because when Prime Minister Tony Blair came into office in 1997 his main concern was Iraq’s weapons. His fears were bolstered by these faulty intelligence reports about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed.
When Saddam was not overthrown after the Gulf War the UK and United States settled on a containment policy. That consisted of maintaining U.N. sanctions that were started when Iraq invaded Kuwait to punish Baghdad, and also to provide Saddam with an incentive to allow weapons inspectors into the country to destroy his WMD, nuclear and missile programs, which were now prohibited by a U.N. resolution. Finally, no fly zones were created in the north and south to deter Iraq from carrying out any more foreign aggressions. In 1991, the U.N. offered an oil for food program to Iraq to lessen the sanctions, but it was rejected until 1996, and finally implemented in 1997. During this period Saddam was still considered a problem. The fact that he survived the Gulf War and 1991 uprisings was seen with great consternation in London. While he was considered penned up, the belief that he still held onto his weapons was a major concern, and was why England supported weapons inspections throughout the 1990s and beyond.
Iraq’s WMD and nuclear program were destroyed or heavily damaged during the Gulf War, and it went on to get rid of what remained, but kept it a secret, which proved the undoing of the regime. In 2004, the Iraq Survey Group found that the Gulf War had a devastating effect upon Iraq’s weapons programs and infrastructure. Iraq felt like the weapons inspections were an affront to its sovereignty, but more importantly wanted to maintain the image that it was still heavily armed to deter Iran its main rival and to scare off another potential domestic uprising. As the inspections became more intrusive, Saddam decided that it would be best to get rid of his stocks of WMD so that the details about them would remain hidden with the hope that in the future, sanctions would be removed and he could restart the programs. Later on, Iraq would admit to the inspectors that it had no WMD stocks left, but it couldn’t prove it which would always be an issue with England leading up to the 2003 invasion. Iraq therefore could not remove the sanctions or pariah status with England and the United States because while it had no WMD or nuclear program left, it could not prove it and didn’t want to because it still feared its neighbor and its own population.
Into this environment stepped the United Nations weapons inspections that lasted for almost the entire 1990s. In 1991 at the start of the inspections’ regime Iraq issued its weapons declaration to the U.N. that set the stage for the entire process. The document was incomplete and denied much of the country’s work such as is nuclear research. Iraq eventually admitted to most of its programs but it took years to do so. At the same time, the Iraqi government was not cooperative with the inspectors when they entered the country and eventually created an extensive deception campaign, especially when the U.N. personnel demanded access to sensitive sites like presidential palaces. Iraq also became convinced that the U.S. was manipulating the inspectors to create confrontations so it could launch military strikes and support coups, all of which were true by the end of the Clinton administration. Baghdad’s unwillingness to work with the inspectors made them and England believe that Iraq was still armed and would not give up its weapons and programs.
In 1995, Saddam’s son in law Hussein Kamal defected to Jordan and revealed some of the mysteries of Iraq’s weapons program, but it only increased the suspicions of the west. Kamal was in charge of hiding Iraq’s programs. He said that all the WMD stocks had been destroyed, the programs ended, and gave details about the nuclear research that the inspectors didn’t know. Rather than accepting that Iraq had nothing left, the inspectors believed that Iraq was hiding even more, and wanted to renew their efforts in Iraq. This was heightened when Baghdad admitted that it had kept secret much of its work and then released a huge stock of documents. England took this to mean that Iraq was still armed and had active programs. This was just another example of how Saddam’s strategy backfired. Kamal said that Iraq had no stocks of WMD left and no weapons programs, but because of all the deceit surrounding the topic, he was not believed. Rather it confirmed the fears of the U.N. and the UK that there was still more to find out.
By 1997 the inspectors admitted they had done as much as they could. There were still unaccounted stocks of WMD because Iraq had secretly destroyed them and not documented it. On the nuclear side however inspectors said their work was done. That led to U.N. Resolution 1134 that said Iraq had not fully complied with its obligations. In 1998, PM Blair said inspectors had to continue or the authority of the U.N. would be compromised. Later that year Iraq said that it would stop working with the inspectors because they believed there would never end. That led to Operation Desert Fox where the United States and England launched a four day bombing and missile campaign against Iraq. Unbeknownst to London and Washington, the operation led to Iraq giving up the hope of reviving its weapons programs. Baghdad believed that the sanctions would never end and thus it was futile to believe that it could restart them. Again, because of Iraq’s secrecy this would not be discovered until after the 2003 invasion.
England finished the 1990s believing that Iraq still had its WMD and nuclear programs intact. The United Nations’ inspectors could not confirm all the details about them, and their last report said that Iraq was still concealing information and running a deception campaign to hide them. The UK therefore decided to continue with its containment policy and believed that these weapons were still the main issue with Iraq.
Hiro, Dilip, Iraq, In the Eye of the Storm, New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002
The Iraq Inquiry, “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry,” 7/6/16
Iraq Survey Group, “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCIA on Iraq’s WMD,” 9/30/04