Early British assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were almost exactly the same as the Americans. In the 1990s to the early 2000s the U.K. assumed that Iraq still had its WMD and wanted to expand its programs. It also felt that Baghdad would always hide what it was doing. Just like the U.S. the threat assessments also gradually increased.
At the start of the 2000s British intelligence was largely guessing about what Iraq was doing. An April 19, 2000 report by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) said that Iraq was continuing with its WMD programs. It said that Iraq had an active biological program and was looking into building mobile labs based upon reports from Germany using the Iraqi defector Curveball. It didn’t have much information about chemical weapons. Most importantly the JIC couldn’t confirm anything without U.N. inspectors in Iraq.
Another assessment from December 1 said that since inspectors had left the country Iraq would increase its activity and speculated that it was producing WMD. It had little evidence of a nuclear program. It also got reports that Iraq visited Niger and thought that could have been about buying uranium.
Both of these reports were based completely upon assumptions. The conventional wisdom was that Saddam would never give up his weapons of mass destruction and after the United Nations left in 1998 Iraq would go back to producing chemical and biological weapons. These ideas would become the main case by both the U.K. and U.S. that Saddam needed to be removed. This was especially true of Prime Minister Tony Blair who been focused upon WMD longer than the Bush administration.
In 2001 British intelligence began making stronger claims against Iraq. A May 2001 paper by the JIC admitted that its intelligence was “patchy” but claimed Iraq had increased its work on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The JIC claimed there was more activity at nuclear facilities and that it might be working to enrich uranium again. It stated Iraq was rebuilding its WMD production capabilities, that it was filling munitions with agents. When the Chilcot Inquiry delved into the source material it was revealed just how weak the evidence was for this report. For instance, two new sources claimed Iraq was working with uranium but they had no direct experience with the program. The British were still relying upon Curveball as well who claimed Iraq built mobile biological labs something he made up to gain asylum in Germany. The U.K. never spoke directly with Curveball about his story either. The post-invasion Butler Inquiry noted that this marked a change in U.K. intelligence because from 2001 on it would consistently say that Iraq was producing WMD and working on a nuclear bomb.
British intelligence on Iraq’s WMD and nuclear programs mirrored American reports during this period. At the start of the 2000s there was the belief that Iraq still had its programs but they were at a low level based upon assumptions of Saddam’s desire to maintain them. After that however assessments became more and more alarming about enriching uranium, building mobile biological weapons labs, etc. that all pointed to Iraq becoming an increasing danger. None of this intelligence proved correct. It was largely based upon shoddy analysis using many sources that should have never led to conclusions. It was because the British believed Iraq would never give up its WMD that led to the claims, not intelligence fueling them. This was the exact same thing that happened with the U.S.
The Iraq Inquiry, “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry,” 7/6/16
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