Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Section 3.7 Development of UK Strategy and Options, 1 February to 7 March 2003

In the months immediately before the March 2003 invasion of the Iraq the number one priority of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government was getting a second United Nations resolution to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein. This was despite the fact that the weapons inspectors had found nothing, and France, Russia and others on the U.N. Security Council opposed going to war. Despite that Blair was convinced that he could win the day. He would be proved wrong again and again.

In January 2003 PM Blair met with President George Bush and was promised a second U.N. resolution even though the White House staff was telling him otherwise. The two leaders met on January 31 when it was already becoming clear that the war would start in March no matter what. Bush agreed to push for a second resolution because Blair needed one to gain political support back in England. This was despite the fact that Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice were opposed to the idea, and Secretary of State Colin Powell said a new one probably couldn’t get passed anyway. Blair’s only victory in the entire Iraq conflict was convincing Bush to go to the United Nations. Bush appreciated Blair’s friendship and support and was willing to go this route despite his own reservations to help the prime minister. Blair on the other hand believed that he could win over the U.N. to his side despite all the evidence he would fail.

One of the reasons why Blair thought a second resolution was still possible was that he didn’t believe Iraq was cooperating with weapons inspections. At the start of February he told parliament that if Iraq continued to not meet its obligations to the inspectors it would be in material breach and that would justify a new resolution. This was largely based upon the reports he was receiving like one from the Foreign Office that said Iraq’s weapons declaration didn’t reveal anything new and that it wasn’t working with the inspectors on certain issues. Blair was so convinced that he could win the day that he told Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar that their two countries should draft a new resolution. The problems with Blair’s thinking were two fold. First, despite the inspectors saying Iraq had not come clean on everything their overall reporting was that they found no WMD or active programs. Second, there was little support amongst the other members of the U.N. Security Council for going to war.

Members of the Security Council were open about their support for continued inspections and opposition to any use of force against Iraq. On February 5 Secretary of State Powell gave his presentation to the U.N. on Iraq’s WMD and ties to terrorism. Russia’s Foreign Minister replied that there was no time limit on the inspections so there was no reason to end them. He said they should take as long as they needed. France believed that the inspections were working and should continue. On February 10 the Foreign Office told Downing Street that there were only four countries supporting a second resolution, the U.S. England, Bulgaria and Spain and that getting a new resolution therefore was impossible. This had been true for quite some time. France and Russia had been the greatest skeptics of Washington and London’s call for confronting Iraq, and several others on the Security Council were unconvinced as well. Blair still thought he could change their minds despite the evidence to the contrary.

Blair’s position was also undermined by reports by the inspectors. On February 14 the head inspectors gave their latest report to the Security Council. Hans Blix told the body that no WMD had been found but there were some unaccounted anthrax and VX stocks that Iraq claimed it unilaterally destroyed. Mohammed El Baradei from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told the Council no evidence of a nuclear weapons program had been found, but there were still some unresolved issues. The next month, Blix reported that Iraq was doing more, but it still was still not fully cooperating. El Baradei said that IAEA could soon finish its work because it was finding nothing including evidence of aluminum tubes for centrifuges, magnets for a nuclear bomb program, or the purchase of uranium from Niger. These briefings were no different from the ones before and afterward. Iraq was working with the U.N., but not on everything. The unaccounted for WMD stocks would always remain an issue, but Iraq was telling the truth it had destroyed all of its weapons stocks. The problem was it did it secretly and didn’t document it so this would always be an issue. On the nuclear front there was no such ambiguity. The IAEA just wanted to know what Baghdad had done in the past with its program, but repeatedly said no active weapons work was going on. Both London and Washington picked on the negatives and presented them as the only thing of importance coming from the inspectors despite the larger picture that nothing was being found. That’s because the two countries believed Iraq would always hide what it was doing like it did in the 1990s. They didn’t expect the U.N. to disarm Iraq just to provide some type of justification for removing Saddam. The non-cooperation therefore, was all they cared about.

The last important bit of information from this section is an intelligence report from February on Iraq, WMD ad Al Qaeda. On February 10 the Joint International Council issued a paper saying that any war would increase the threat of terrorism in the world, and that if Saddam believed that his regime would fall he might give his WMD to terrorists. Iraq might also resort to terrorism in the case of war, but it had limited assets. At the same time, the JIC found no intelligence of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. It said that Al Qaeda members were in Iraq, but didn’t know of any relationship to the government. This mostly had to do with Ansar al-Islam in Kurdistan which received Al Qaeda members from Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion. Both U.S. and British intelligence were sure that Iraq had WMD. The CIA and MI6 also thought as war approached Saddam would be more inclined to share his weapons with terrorists in a last gasp of desperation. Also like the CIA, The British didn’t believe there was any operational cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda. While the Bush administration ignored that and claimed the two worked together, the Blair government never made that assertion.


The Iraq Inquiry, “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry,” 7/6/16

Other stores on the Chilcot Report

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