In the fall of 2002, the Blair government was concerned about how the return of United Nations inspectors would work out. Prime Minister Tony Blair believed that they would find something and that would justify the war. At the same time London had to deal with the Bush administration which was growing impatient and wanted to go to war sooner rather than later.
On October 11, 2002, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assessed that Iraq was going to hide its WMD from inspectors. It said that Iraq had an extensive program to put WMD in residential buildings, schools, and private homes. It also had mobile labs which could move around the country. The JIC worried that the United Nations would not have enough intelligence on Iraq to be effective. At the same time, it thought that as the invasion neared Baghdad’s WMD would be exposed because it had to prepare for war. This report was based upon the belief that Iraq would act just as it did during the 1990s. That was when Saddam formed a committee to deceive the U.N. and put up objections to every move it made. Those assumptions would shape all the following intelligence on the inspections. In fact, Baghdad destroyed its stocks shortly after the Gulf War and gave up hopes of restarting its programs by the end of the 90s.
The other major concern at Downing Street was how the Bush administration would feel about the United Nations’ work. On December 11 Blair was told that the Americans were impatient and thinking of invading by mid-February 2003. The prime minister’s advisors told him Washington was concerned the inspectors would find nothing. Blair however remained optimistic. He pushed Bush to be patient in a phone conversation on December 16. Since the start of 2002 the British had been asking the U.S. for more time to build up support against Iraq. Bush had only agreed to inspections to satisfy Blair. Time was running out however.
The Chilcot Inquiry highlighted the continued shortcomings with U.K. intelligence. MI6 for instance got a new source in Iraq and told the government it would provide a wealth of information about WMD. In October however MI6 began questioning the source. A September 23 MI6 report said the source talked about glass containers holding WMD. MI6 found his story strangely similar to the movie The Rock where nerve gas was in glass beads. That didn’t stop MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove to claim that the Iraqi was going to provide more important details. Questions about him increased and by February 18, 2003, MI6 labeled him a liar. This was not the only problem. The Butler Report which looked into pre-invasion intelligence found that 80% of the human sources the JIC used on Iraq’s attempts to deceive the inspectors consisted of just two people. 1 of them provided 2/3 of the reports. After the war they would be proven false. The U.K. like other Western countries was desperate to find anyone that could talk about Iraq’s weapons programs. That meant it took in a large number of deceivers because the government was constantly pressuring the intelligence agencies to find more as the war neared.
In February Blair met with the chief inspectors but was undeterred but what they told him. On February 6, 2003, Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei consulted with the prime minister. Blix warned that the unresolved issues from the 1990s such as Iraq’s claim that it destroyed its WMD without documenting it may not exist. Still, Blix told Foreign Minister Jack Straw that he believed Iraq had weapons programs. On February 14 Blix told the United Nations Security Council that no WMD was found and that the unaccounted for items may not exist. El Baradei declared that no nuclear program had been discovered. Then on February 20 Blix told Blair that maybe there wasn’t much WMD left in Iraq. The premier continued to believe something would turn up, while his staff was much more pessimistic. This was Blair’s mindset during the entire run-up to the war. He always believed that he could convince people of his position and that he would be proven right about Iraq in the end. He turned out to be wrong again and again, yet he didn’t change his mind.
The Iraq Inquiry, “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry,” 7/6/16
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