This is the first installment of a multi-part series courtesy of IRAQFACT working group. Their research is also going into a timeline project organized by Congressman John Conyers.
On January 29, 2001, just nine day after his inauguration, George Bush sat down in the White House with Imam Sayed Hassan al-Qazwini, the leader of the Islamic Center of America in Detroit. This would be the last of six meetings that were held between the two men prior to the first meeting of the NSC. Their mutual desire for regime change in Iraq was one of the main topics of discussion that chilly winter day. Over the following three days, Bush met with his new National Security Council twice. By the evening of Feb. 1, decisions had been made that would forever change the course of the history. A path to war had been set, and as the events of the following year unfolded, the desires of the two men would start to become a reality. By late the following December, Bush would meet at his Crawford Ranch with Tommy Franks to finalize the plans for war with Iraq. The events of September 11 would pave the way to justifying the invasion to the American people, and it would only be a matter of time before the plans that began on that brisk January day would come to fruition Over the course of the year military planners and security analysts discussed various plans and scenarios for war with Iraq, but four constant themes emerged from every plan:
1. The need to pre-position military equipment and forces in the region.
2. A desire to encourage an armed opposition force within Iraq.
3. The necessity to soften-up or destroy Iraqi defense capabilities.
4. A means to justify the need to go to war to the American people.
When viewed in the light of these themes, many of the events and decisions of 2001 clearly demonstrate a concerted effort on the part of the Administration to take the country to war and the military making preparations for that war long in advance of the American public's knowledge.
January 30-February 1, 2001
The first National Security Council meeting of new administration was held on Jan. 30, 2001. The removal of Saddam Hussein was a central topic of the meeting. According to then Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neill: "From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go, that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration." At the second NSC meeting on Feb.1 the topic of regime change again became the center of discussion. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld spoke at the second meeting about how removing Mr. Hussein would "demonstrate what U.S. policy is all about" and help transform the Middle East. Rumsfeld talked at the meeting "in general terms about post-Saddam Iraq, dealing with the Kurds in the north, the oil fields, the reconstruction of the country's economy, and the `freeing of the Iraqi people"
Feb. 3rd, 2001
One of the first policy changes coming out of the NSC meetings was the Bush administrations issuing an order permitting Iraqi opposition groups to begin limited moves inside Iraq using US government funding. The moves were limited to a program described as the "collection of informational materials", but they signaled a change in direction and crossed a line which the Clinton administration was exceptionally reluctant to pass. It marked the first time since 1996 that the US had directly funded Iraqi opposition activities inside Iraq itself. The new order allowed the Iraqi National Congress (INC) - the main umbrella opposition group in the north of the country - to draw on $4m which was authorized by the US Congress in late 2000 to compile information inside Iraq relating to Baghdad's war crimes, military operations and other internal developments.
A program to train Iraqi dissidents begins in College Station, Texas as dissidents receive a first round of weapons training from federal lawmen and members of the military's Special Forces under a U.S. plan to support insurgency activities inside Iraq. The INC, under a $98,000 contract with the Guidry Group, a consulting firm comprised of ex-secret service agents, were to learn the fine art of "diplomatic security". What distinguished this training from previous courses for the INC, is that the rebels attending the five-day seminar also learned how to use pistols, Kalishnikov rifles, 12-gauge shotguns and a variety of other fire-arms. Previous U.S.-backed training for the INC had been limited to "non- lethal" activities, such as emergency medical care, public relations and war crimes investigations. While the State Department still classified this assistance to be of the non-lethal variety, the INC clearly did not. "This is important because this is the first time we are receiving lethal training with the United States government funding," said Francis Brooke the Washington adviser for the INC. Retired Gen. Wayne Downing, the commander of the joint special operations task force during the Gulf War, concurred. He told United Press International "This is significant because this is the first lethal training. It is designed to protect, so the significance is that this is the first time they are being trained to do anything on this level."
Feb. 16th, 2001
U.S. and British aircraft attacked targets near Baghdad. U.S. Defense officials said 24 American and British planes struck six Iraqi military targets five to 20 miles from Baghdad using various long-range precision-guided weapons. The attack was the first Western strike against the capital since December 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. Sirens wailed over Baghdad, loud explosions were heard and anti-aircraft systems opened fire. The Defense Department said the planes struck Iraqi radar systems at about 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Baghdad time. Bush said the attack was a routine mission but had required the President's personal authorization. The British Defense Ministry said British and American planes attacked six sites, comprising part of Iraq's integrated Air Defense System. The raid was the first excursion outside the no-fly zone since 1998.
Feb. 26th, 2001
Two events occur demonstrating a step up in anti-Iraq rhetoric coming out of the White House. "[The] sanctions against Iraq are like Swiss cheese - that means they are not very effective," President George Bush said after his weekend meeting with Tony Blair "We're going to work together to figure out a way to make them more effective,". At the same time, Sec. Of State Colin Powell, attending a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of Kuwait's liberation from Iraqi occupation said "[Our] quarrel is not with the people of Iraq. It is with the regime in Baghdad.''
Late February, 2001
"Cooperative Belt" early warning network started. The network provided radar, early warning and secure communications links between the six GCC (Gulf Cooperative Council) nations. (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) all of whom (with the exception of Saudi Arabia) would become crucial allies in the War in Iraq.
1st wk. of March, 2001
VP Dick Cheney meets with major energy and oil interests to formulate US energy policy. Cheney's Energy Task Force authors a variety of documents relating to the oil industries of Iraq, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts"—This document, dated March 5, 2001, includes a table listing 30 countries which have interests in Iraq's oil industry. The document also includes the names of companies that have interests, the oil fields with which those interests are associated, as well as the statuses of those interests. "Map of Iraq's oil fields"—The map includes markings for "supergiant" oil fields of 5 billion barrels or more, other oilfields, fields "earmarked for production sharing," oil pipelines, operational refineries, and tanker terminals.
Late Feb. or Early March, 2001
Pentagon begins planning to move assets out of Saudi Arabia. Tension between the US and the Saudis had become a more acute in February, after the allies mounted a large air raid from Prince Sultan Air Base against air defense targets around Baghdad, apparently without providing prior notice to the Saudi government. Following this episode, the Saudis imposed operational restrictions on allied warplanes operating out of PSAB, forbidding them to conduct further offensive operations against Iraq. U.S. military formulates a contingency plan for reducing its presence in Saudi Arabia The movement to gain greater basing flexibility—and reduce Washington's dependence on Riyadh—started by Gen. Anthony Zinni.
March 5th, 2001
State Department announced that a sum of five million dollars was allocated to the Iraqi National Congress, noting that talks continue with this organization to provide it with extra aid estimated at 29 million.
March 17th, 2001
Rumsfeld tells Congress of plan to use Qatar as base of future operations. In particular he discusses plans to use Al Udeid air field as a US base of operations. The unused air field in the desert of Qatar which sat idle since 1996, would become in little more than a year the largest US Air Base in the Gulf and the headquarters for all USAF operations in the region. The tiny nation of Qatar, which had no more than 50 US service personnel stationed in it as of October of 2000, would be transformed by the fall of 2002. It not only became the major base of operations for the USAF, it obtained two major Army bases; Camp Snoopy and Camp As Sayliyah, along with numerous smaller supply and pre-positioning centers and became, with Kuwait, our major ally in "The War on Terror."
For the complete story of Al-Udeid airbase see: "Secret" Air Base for Iraq War started prior 9-11.
Mid March, 2001
Ahmad Chalabi visits Iran to establish a base for sending roughly 100 INC operatives into northern Iraq to gather intelligence and distribute "humanitarian aid". The Iraqi National Congress secured necessary licenses from the Office of Foreign Asset Control in early 2001 to spend U.S. government grant funds inside Iran as a specific activity within their overall grant. In April the government of President Mohammad Khatami agrees to permit INC forces and their military equipment to cross the Iranian border into southern Iraq. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control gives special approval to open a liaison office in Tehran. According to an INC official, "We did it with U.S. government money."
Iraqi opposition group holds conference in London, attended by delegations from US State Dept. and British Foreign Office. The two-day gathering is organized by the INC to emphasize the importance of toppling the Iraqi regime and bringing a democratic and accountable government in Baghdad Both the U.S. and the British reiterate their support for the INC and the removal of Saddam Hussein. Tom Warrick, a State Department Official, told the INC in a brief address, the Bush administration was seeking the removal of Saddam Hussein and the creation of a democratic pluralistic regime in Baghdad. Martin Hetherington, of the British Foreign Office, added that the British government appreciates the role played by the INC in providing an alternative for the Iraqi people and working towards the establishment of a democratic system in the country.
A report commissioned by former US Secretary of State James Baker and the Council on Foreign Relations titled; "Strategic Energy Policy Challenges For The 21st Century" is submitted to Vice President Cheney. It warns that the US is running out of oil, with a painful end to cheap fuel already in sight. It argues that "the United States remains a prisoner of its energy dilemma," and that one of the "consequences" of this is a "need for military intervention" to secure its oil supply. It argues that Iraq needs to be overthrown so the US can control its oil.
During a National Security Council deputy principals meeting, Paul Wolfowitz first floats the idea of tying Iraq to terrorism. He asserts that Iraq must be involved in terrorism, since Bin Laden couldn't possibly have attacked the World Trade Center in '93 alone. "One little terrorist group like that couldn't possibly have staged that operation. It must have been Iraq."
As the first four months of the Bush Administration came to a close, plans that were first dreamed up in Washington think tanks and only whispered in the corridors of power, began to become US foreign policy. A concerted effort to embark on regime change in Iraq was well underway. Changes in US policy towards the Iraqi opposition had been made that would hopefully allow an armed insurgency to take hold in Iraq. It was believed that at the very least, such an insurgency would aid in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Some even believed it possible that the opposition might initiate and execute an overthrow on their own with only limited air support coming from the US. (As would become the model in Afghanistan). The military began to eliminate the uncertainty of Saudi cooperation in a major offensive against Iraq by making a shift in basing and pre-positioning to its more friendly and acquiescent Gulf neighbors. This shifting of forces would become a key feature of the pre-war period. By the time the war had officially begun, the military map of the region had been almost entirely re-written. The air operations of Southern and Northern watch began to shift tactics to a more preemptive posture, targeting radar, communication and command and control facilities. The raids outside the No-Fly zone would only increase throughout the period, culminating in the massive pre-war air campaign of Operation Southern Focus in the summer of 2002. The propaganda campaign to sell the war had also started. After years of being a mute issue for most of the American public and media, Iraq, sanctions, weapons inspectors and Saddam Hussein were once again being raised in public discourse. As the faint beating of war drums along the Potomac began, the American people were being prepped for a new chapter in the story of American intervention in Iraq.
In the second installment in this series we will look at the following four-month period as the nation marched forward to war. Data compiled by the IRAQFACT working group. email@example.com
Thursday February 28: I walk over Green Park to the cabinet, troubled by my discussion in Brussels. Before I can raise it, David Blunkett asks if we can have a discussion at an early meeting on Iraq.
I back him up by explaining that military action against Iraq will not be supported in Europe. Nor throughout the Arab world: "In present circumstances Arab governments would not comprehend such obsession with Iraq. They see Sharon, not Saddam, as the problem for the Middle East." Somewhat to my surprise this line provokes a round of "hear hearing" from colleagues, which is the nearest I've heard to a mutiny in the cabinet.
Thursday March 7: A real discussion at cabinet. Tony permitted us to have the debate on Iraq which David and I had asked for. For the first time I can recall in five years, Tony was out on a limb.
David was first over the top. Being now home secretary he cunningly camped on the need for a proper legal authority for any action: "What has changed that suddenly gives us the legal right to take military action that we didn't have a few months ago? Has anybody asked the legal opinion of the attorney-general, and what is he saying?"
Pat Hewitt lamented that we were expected to listen to US worries about Iraq when we could not get them to listen to us before slapping higher tariffs on our steel exports. "We are in danger of being seen as close to President Bush, but without any influence over President Bush."
I am told that in the old days prime ministers would sum up the balance of view in the discussion. This would be simple in the present case as all contributions pointed in one direction. However, Tony does not regard the cabinet as a place for decisions. Normally he avoids having discussions in cabinet until decisions are taken and announced to it.
Tony appeared totally unfazed at the fact that on this occasion the balance of discussion pointed strongly in the reverse direction of his intentions. Rather than attempt to sum up the discussion of this supreme body of collective government, he responded as if he was replying to a question-and-answer session from a party branch.
He was patient with us, but he was firm where he saw Britain's national interests lie: "I tell you that we must steer close to America. If we don't we will lose our influence to shape what they do."
This was the last cabinet meeting at which a large number of ministers spoke up against the war. I have little sympathy with the criticism of Tony that he sidelined the cabinet over Iraq. On the contrary, over the next six months we were to discuss Iraq more than any other topic, but only Clare Short and I ever expressed frank doubts about the trajectory in which we were being driven.
Monday March 25: Among my old contacts in the Foreign Office I cannot find any who can convincingly demonstrate that something dramatic has changed in Iraq in recent months which would produce a justification for military action that was not there a year ago.
Thursday April 11: At cabinet Tony reported in full on his visit. Pat Hewitt spoke up bravely on the importance of UN cover for any military action on Iraq. "There will be a lot of tension among the Muslim communities in Britain if an attack on Iraq is seen as a unilateralist action. They would find it much easier to understand, and we would find it much easier to sell, if there was a specific agreement at the UN on the need for military action."
Tony characteristically refused to be boxed in. He regards the UN process as important but "we should not tie ourselves down to doing nothing unless the UN authorised it". Rather more alarmingly he said, "The time to debate the legal base for our action should be when we take that action."
Tuesday September 3: Tony gave the second of his new monthly press conferences to the press gallery. He promises "the fullest possible debate" in parliament and emphasises the importance of building broad international support for action at the UN. I am, though, haunted by the fear that Tony still sees this as an issue of manipulating press and public opinion, and has not grasped that on the substance of the issue the public and he are so far apart that he cannot win this one. Over the years, those employed to support him at No 10 have become accustomed to the Blair magic working, and I fear that there are none left among them prepared bluntly to tell him that this time it cannot work.
Wednesday September 4: It is a glorious day and I walk across the park for my meeting at No 10 with Tony. I open up with the recall of parliament. "Recall is inevitable, and the longer we put it off the more grudging we appear and the less credit we will get for it when it happens." To my surprise, Tony readily agrees.
He attaches great importance to the forthcoming dossier, although I fear that the main response will be one of disappointed expectations. He is enthusiastic at Saddam Hussein's being reported as saying that Iraq must get nuclear weapons to pose a threat to the West. Tony added, "Given the poor state of his conventional forces, it is not surprising that he wants to get his hands on nuclear weapons."
This is a curious aside. If Tony himself recognises that Saddam's conventional forces are much weaker than they were before, it is going to be difficult for him to be convincing that Saddam is now a greater threat to his region.
A rational interpretation of the events of the summer of 2002 would be that Tony Blair succeeded in convincing President Bush that they would secure more international and domestic support for an attack on Iraq if the president put the issue before the UN. The gain from this approach was that the US submitted to a UN process. The downside was the implicit guarantee that Britain was committed to join the US military action.
I do not know whether Tony ever made that deal explicit rather than simply implicit. But it would have been consistent with his previous conduct towards Iraq if he had given the US president a private assurance. I have seen a minute of January 1998 to Tony Blair from John Holmes, his then international private secretary, written during the confrontation with Iraq over weapons inspections, which reminded the prime minister that he had already assured President Clinton: "If a resolution were unachievable, there would certainly be support here for further action."
On that occasion Saddam's subsequent refusal to co-operate with the weapons inspectors provoked unanimous condemnation by the security council. Tony Blair may have bargained on history repeating itself five years later, and it certainly would have been in line with his own previous practice if he had given President Bush a private assurance of British support. The subsequent refusal of the UN to provide cover for military action came as a very unwelcome surprise.
Monday September 16: When I was getting ready for bed, I listened to the midnight news and was startled to hear that Kofi Annan had just received a letter from the Iraqis accepting the return of UN weapons inspectors without any conditions. This is quite a climbdown by Saddam. We cannot credibly proceed with a military strike now he has met our key demand.
Tuesday September 17: When I got into the office the first thing I did was to ring Jonathan Powell to express my strong view that we could not simply bat away the latest offer from Saddam. I found Jonathan very receptive to my argument, but there was a catch: "We have to be careful of how our statements will play in Washington, and we therefore should not get too far in front of the Americans."
Later in the day, passing through No 10 on my way to the Cabinet Office, I bumped into Alastair Campbell and again expressed the view that we should not be too grudging in our response. Alastair, as always, was no-nonsense in his reply: "I cannot agree with you. We are playing a long game." Presumably the long game is to contrive an assault on Iraq whatever Saddam does.
Tuesday September 24: The house was packed for the recall debate, even the front bench. I got a glimpse of the irritation of the war party with my public doubts when Hilary Armstrong, the chief whip, expressed her appreciation that I had lost a stone in weight as we otherwise would not have squeezed in. Adam Ingram, a defence minister, asked how I had done it. "Basically, by starvation," I replied. To which he cheerily responded, "I'm sure many of our colleagues would be only too happy to help you with that."
Jack Straw's speech was refreshing for its extended and powerful emphasis on working through the UN. Afterwards I told him: "You do realise now you are thoroughly impaled on the UN route?" To which he responded with a twinkle: "Yes, I'm glad you noticed that." I suspected that there is some tension behind the scenes between the Foreign Office and Downing Street about the extent to which the UN can be the only route.
This was the parliamentary debate in which the prime minister presented the now notorious dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. I had been familiar with previous secret reporting on Iraq, and when I came to read the dossier I was surprised that there was so little new material in it. There was no new evidence that I could find of a dramatic increase in threat requiring urgent invasion.
Intelligence is supposed to be the evidence on which ministers reach decisions on foreign and defence policy. It is not meant to be the propaganda by which ministers sell a policy to a sceptical public. Nor are intelligence reports suited for the purpose. At the Foreign Office I regularly saw the assessments of the joint intelligence committee (JIC). They would normally arrive in the red box for the weekend and were readily identifiable by their distinctive green covers.
I grew to respect the caution of the Secret Intelligence Service and I would regard it as monstrously unfair to the men and women who serve in the agency if they were now made the fall guys because of the way their work was abused to produce the September dossier.
The dossier did violence to their craft in two ways. First, it painted only a one-sided picture, whereas every JIC assessment I saw would honestly present any contrary evidence that might be inconsistent with the final conclusion. Second, it definitely proclaimed a certitude for its claims that was at odds with the nuanced tone of every JIC assessment I read.
Personally I never doubted that No 10 believed in the threads of intelligence which were woven into the dossier. But that does not alter the awkward fact that the intelligence was wrong and ministers who had applied a sceptical mind could have seen that it was too thin to be a reliable basis for war.
No 10 believed in the intelligence because they desperately wanted it to be true. Their sin was not one of bad faith but of evangelical certainty. They selected for inclusion only the scraps of intelligence that fitted the government's case and gave them an edge that was justifiable. The net result was a gross distortion.
Thursday February 6: At cabinet, Jack is beaming with satisfaction about the relative success of Colin Powell's presentation yesterday to the security council,
which he attended. However, in a comment which revealed the thin ice on which we are skating, he began with the admission that "Powell's presentation went better than I or Powell expected".
One issue on which we may have already fallen through the ice is on the rather laboured attempts to prove that Saddam and Al-Qaeda are in the same camp despite the mountain of evidence that they heartily loathe each other. Tony, who has made much of trying to merge Saddam and world terrorism in the public mind, half-acknowledged the poverty of evidence when he described it as "a changing picture" with the two thrown together on the principle that "my enemy's enemy is my friend".
There never was a shred of evidence found linking Saddam to Al-Qaeda, despite a desperate hunt for it by the intelligence services of three continents. Foreign Office contacts with Iraqis discovered that they were indignant to be compared with Al-Qaeda whom they regarded as an enemy rather than an ally. These feelings were heartily reciprocated by Al-Qaeda.
However, leaders in both the US and the UK did not let the facts on the ground get in the way of their allegations on the airwaves. Tony Blair, addressing the nation on the eve of the war, warned, "Dictators like Saddam, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, threaten the very existence of such a world. That is why I have asked our troops to go into action tonight."
Tony was far too clever to allege that there was a real link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. But he deliberately crafted a suggestive phrasing which in the minds of many viewers must have created an impression, and was designed to create the impression, that British troops were going to Iraq to fight a threat from Al-Qaeda.
In a powerful speech to the Commons before it voted on war, Tony majored on the risk that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states and fundamentalist terrorist organisations might come together to pose a unique threat to western security.
What none of us knew at the time was that, only a month before, the prime minister had received an assessment that "there was no intelligence that Iraq had transferred CB materials to Al-Qaida". Even more startlingly the JIC had warned that, "in the event of imminent regime collapse there would be a risk of transfer of such material". We had to wait until the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee six months later before we learnt of these warnings.
Friday February 14: The news from New York is electrifying. The latest report by Hans Blix registers a lot of progress in co-operation from Iraq, fails to identify any evidence of weapons of mass destruction and expresses confidence that, with time, more progress can be made. Far from being welcome news to Tony, this will be his nightmare come true. The truth is that he does not want the UN inspections to work. He needs them in order to prove that Saddam will not co-operate and that he is therefore justified in going to war as Sancho Panza to George Bush's Don Quixote.
Thursday February 20: I spent the afternoon in private meetings at our flat. An old friend from the Foreign Office called first. He observed that since the Blix report, Jack has been talking even faster than usual, always a sign with him that he knows he is under pressure. I shepherded my friend down the lift, while I myself used the stairs in order that John Scarlett, chairman of the JIC, who had come to brief me, would not see my visitor.
The presentation was impressive in its integrity and shorn of the political slant with which No 10 encumbers any intelligence assessment. My conclusion at the end of an hour is that Saddam probably does not have weapons of mass destruction in the sense of weapons that could be used against large-scale civilian targets.
Wednesday March 5: Prime minister's questions was notable for the confidence Tony expressed about getting a second UN resolution. I don't know whether this is calculated bravado to keep Saddam wary, or whether he is in a state of denial.
I saw Tony privately shortly after we left the chamber. I started by observing that he'd gone out on a limb and the first piece of advice that I would offer is that he had to stop climbing further out on it, especially on Friday when Hans Blix presents his next report to the UN. "Britain has got to be seen on-side with Blix." If he needed months, we should be prepared to give him until autumn.
Tony was quite frank that he could not deliver that: "I don't know if I could do that. Left to himself, Bush would have gone to war in January. No, not January, but back in September."
I expressed my concern about the hard-line rightwingers around Bush and warned him that many of them would regard it as a bonus in the present crisis if we were driven from office and replaced by a Conservative government. He laughed and said, “Regime change is for Baghdad. It is not for here.”
The most revealing exchange came when we talked about Saddam’s arsenal. I told him, “It’s clear from the private briefing I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities. But he probably does have several thousand battlefield chemical munitions. Do you never worry that he might use them against British troops?”
“Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use.”
There were two distinct elements to this exchange that sent me away deeply troubled. The first was that the timetable to war was plainly not driven by the progress of the UN weapons inspections. Tony made no attempt to pretend that what Hans Blix might report would make any difference to the countdown to invasion.
The second troubling element to our conversation was that Tony did not try to argue me out of the view that Saddam did not have real weapons of mass destruction that were designed for strategic use against city populations and capable of being delivered with reliability over long distances. I had now expressed that view to both the chairman of the JIC and to the prime minister and both had assented in it.
At the time I did believe it likely that Saddam had retained a quantity of chemical munitions for tactical use on the battlefield. These did not pose “a real and present danger to Britain” as they were not designed for use against city populations and by definition could only threaten British personnel if we were to deploy them on the battlefield within range of Iraqi artillery.
I had now twice been told that even these chemical shells had been put beyond operational use in response to the pressure from intrusive inspections.
I have no reason to doubt that Tony Blair believed in September 2002 that Saddam really had weapons of mass destruction ready for firing within 45 minutes. What was clear from this conversation was that he did not believe it himself in March this year.
This in turn begs another chain of questions. If No 10 accepted that Saddam had no real weapons of mass destruction which he could credibly deliver against city targets and if they themselves believed he could not reassemble his chemical weapons in a credible timescale for use on the battlefield, just how much of a threat did they really think Saddam represented?
I have long been puzzled that the contentious claims in the September dossier were quietly dropped by ministers as war drew nearer. In the crucial debate on March l8, no minister claimed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction ready to be fired in 45 minutes, or that he had rebuilt chemical weapons plants, or that he had sought uranium from Niger.
Yet in that debate the government had its back to the wall and outside the chamber the whips were deploying every technique of persuasion available in their armoury. Why did ministers not repeat inside the chamber their strongest lines on the threat from Saddam unless they themselves had come to recognise they were disputed?
They had been given plenty of cause to come to doubt their own claims. The scepticism about the September dossier which has surfaced from within UK intelligence is a pale reflection of the raging controversy in the US. Colin Powell invested four whole days, before his presentation to the security council in March, grilling the CIA on the reliability of the intelligence he was going to deploy. By the end of it he had decided not to use the claim about the Niger connection on uranium and he made no mention of weapons of mass destruction ready for firing in 45 minutes.
Given the intimate relationship between State Department and Foreign Office it is implausible that his cautious scepticism did not become known in London.
The public controversy over the September dossier has focused on whether No 10 really believed in its claims at the time of its publication, and whether all of its claims were sourced in reliable intelligence. There is, though, another and even more disturbing question. Did No 10 still believe in its own claims six months later and how many of those claims had been undermined by subsequent intelligence and analysis?
This leads to the gravest of political questions. The rules of the Commons require ministers to correct the record as soon as they are aware that they may have misled parliament. If the government did come to know that the State Department did not trust the claims in the September dossier and that some of even their own top experts did not believe them, should they not have told parliament before asking the Commons to vote for war on a false prospectus?
Monday March 10: Clare Short announced that she will resign if there is no second resolution. For good measure, she also describes Tony Blair as “reckless”, and repeats it five times. It is a sign of Tony’s weak political position not that Clare said these things last night, but that this morning he has not dared to remove her from the government. When Hilary came in I could not resist asking if Tony was going to dismiss Clare and got a brisk response: “No, he’s far too busy today.” She then added, with a hint of a smile, “Reshuffles take so much time.”
I took Gaynor and my son Peter to dinner in Portcullis House. Martin Salter leaned across to tell us that the whips had been asking tonight if Labour MPs would be for or against France. To demonstrate where their prejudices lay on the war, they had set up a game of boules in Portcullis corridors and had been talking loudly to each other in French.
Go here for full-screen view of the Blog