In the fall of 2002 the biggest issue before the British government was whether one or two United Nations resolutions was needed to deal with Iraq. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw argued for just one resolution that would include both a demand for new weapons inspections, and if that failed would authorize the use of force. The problem was elements in the U.S. didn’t want to go to the U.N. at all. Some were pushing for a single declaration and if that was not passed the U.S. would act. The English were against this idea believing that would not win over its public. In September, Prime Minister Blair and his staff agreed upon a first resolution that would demand unconditional inspections and move on from there. The problem from the start was that the Americans were a very reluctant partner. Bush, and especially Vice President Dick Cheney was diametrically opposed to including the U.N. Blair changed Bush’s mind, but he was still weary. From the start London knew two resolutions were probably necessary, one for inspections, and one for the use of force, and that Washington only wanted one. This gamble by Blair to go for one and hope for two proved to be a major mistake because it did not work out.
When London and Washington discussed drafting the first resolution, all of their differences came out. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Cheney were trying to include issues that Iraq would never meet so that action could be taken immediately as soon as it was passed. The British wanted the inspectors to play out first, and then discuss the next move. The two sides finally agreed on a draft at the end of September. Despite that small victory, the tensions between the two became more apparent.
The next step for Downing Street was to win over parliament. On September 24, the body began discussion of Iraq. That same day, the government released its Iraq weapons dossier with the claim that Iraq could use WMD in 45 minutes. The premier told parliament that Iraq had an active WMD program, and that his goal was to disarm Iraq via the United Nations. That was necessary because Iraq had used those weapons before and could use them again in the future. Ministers and aides to Blair told the legislature that a new U.N. resolution on Iraq was coming, and that would not authorize force. From the start, Blair’s main concern about Iraq was its WMD and disarming it. He laid out his argument to parliament successfully. What he didn’t tell it was the second resolution that would authorize force was unlikely because Washington disagreed with one. He didn’t let the lawmakers know that because he believed that he could convince Bush to change his mind, just like he was able to get the president to go to the international body to begin with.
During this debate British intelligence released a report that varied in important ways from the U.S. On October 10 the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) issued a paper saying that Iraq’s ability to conduct terrorism was limited, and it would only go that path if attacked. The JIC also noted that Iraq could only use WMD within its borders. It also didn’t think there was any cooperation between Al Qaeda and Iraq despite various meetings and the presence of Musab al-Zarqawi in Baghdad and Al Qaeda members with Ansar al-Islam in Kurdistan. The British found no evidence that Saddam controlled Ansar. These were also diametrically opposed to what the Americans were saying. Both agreed that Iraq had WMD, but the U.S. pushed that its missiles gave it the ability to hit targets outside of the U.S. It also pushed the claim that unmanned aerial vehicles could be delivered off the coast of America and attack the homeland. The two countries also agreed that Iraq and Al Qaeda had contacts, that Zarqawi was in Iraq after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and that Al Qaeda refugees had migrated from that country to Ansar al-Islam’s camp. The Bush administration claimed the two had cooperated for years however, that Zarqawi was an Al Qaeda agent working with Baghdad, and together with Ansar showed that Saddam and bin Laden had an alliance. London and Washington would never agree upon these points, but the very strong ties between Blair and Bush were all that really mattered. They both agreed that Saddam had to go, so the underlying disagreements did not matter.
Another difference between the two was over the new inspection regime. On October 11, the Joint Intelligence Commission argued that while Saddam believed he could deal with new inspectors he would cooperate because he wanted to avoid a new military confrontation. Iraq would still try to hide and block inspections however. The Americans on the other hand, never believed in the inspections, and just saw them as a step towards war. They argued no matter what happened, Iraq was guilty of hiding its WMD, and that’s why Saddam should be deposed. As long as things were moving forward Blair thought he still had Bush’s ear and could influence him towards London’s position.
On November 8, U.N. Resolution 1441 passed saying that Iraq was in breach of previous resolution, and this was the last chance for it to come clean about its WMD and disarm. China, France, and Russia issued a joint statement that if Iraq didn’t cooperate the issued would go to the Security Council for action. Bush said that the U.S. reserved the right to decide what to do about Iraq regardless of the U.N. Blair’s government was also split. Some came to the U.S. position that only one resolution was needed while others believed a second one authorizing force would still have to happen. Blair even admitted that a second resolution would be very hard given the positions of France and Russia. He was also told by the attorney general that going back to the U.N. would be necessary to have a legal invasion of Iraq. Here again, Blair was being confronted with all of the problems with his position. A second resolution was needed but the U.S. didn’t want one, and permanent members of the Security Council would not vote for one either. The prime minister’s supreme confidence made him believe he could prevail with several different countries all at once, which proved to be false. Things would eventually collapse at the U.N., but Blair just moved on anyway not wanting to break with the U.S. This would be one of many failures the British had in Iraq, which would characterize its entire engagement in the conflict.
Chilcot Report, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, Executive Summary, London: House of Commons, 2016
Prados, John, Hoodwinked, The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War, New York: The New Press, 2004
Woodward, Bob, Bush At War, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Singapore: Simon & Schuster, 2002
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