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Report: Executive Decisions – How British Intelligence was Hijacked for the Iraq War

October 22, 2012 No Comment

By Aisha Dennis and Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

According to British government officials, the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein systematically obstructed and undermined the weapons inspections programmes conducted by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). It was argued that Iraq’s alleged failure and refusal to comply with the weapons inspections and their requirements necessitated the military invasion and occupation of Iraq, commencing in March 2003. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister at the time, insisted that the war was enacted with the aim of eliminating weapons of mass destruction, upholding the standing of the United Nations and replacing the authoritarian Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein with democratic governance. The 2003 invasion and the United Nations (UN) sanctions regime were justified with the assertion that such policies would destroy the infrastructure that incubated Iraq’s weapons programmes, and prevent Saddam Hussein from gaining access to materials and technology that could be used to continue to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The UK pointed to reports to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by UNSCOM and UNMOVIC, as proof of Iraqi intransigence in relation to the weapons inspection process – among many other sources.This report undertakes an analysis of evidence in the public record of most relevance to understanding this process. The evidence illustrates without doubt that the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was deliberately exaggerated, and even fabricated to justify a military invasion. By the admission of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)and the British Cabinet, the intelligence suggesting that Iraq retained or had rebuilt weapons capabilities was “poor.” The British White Paper entitled Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, showed that by 1998 Iraq had been substantially disarmed through UN weapons inspections and monitoring. Yet in 2002, in the absence of evidence of an imminent threat, “an ultimatum… in terms Saddam would reject” was delivered through the UNSC to produce a legal justification for military action that would simultaneously mollify public opinion. Indeed, according to a leaked policy options paper produced by the Cabinet Office, the primary objectives of UK policy were “ensuring energy security” and “preserving peace and stability in the Gulf,” a region containing over half of the world’s oil, and much of its natural gas.

The picture that emerges from this analysis is disturbing. It demonstrates the fundamental politicisation of British intelligence in the run-up to the 2003 invasion; its subservience to US geostrategic ambitions and assumptions which were rarely questioned at Cabinet-level; and the overarching background of a looming energy crisis which drove the development of a joint US-UK strategy focused on opening up Middle East resources. All these factors interplayed to disfigure Britain’s capacity to produce objective intelligence on Iraq, to the extent that political ideology hopelessly impaired the government’s understanding of the facts on the ground. All this played an instrumental role in paving the way for the justification of a policy of regime-change which both US and UK planners had often candidly discussed as being pre-eminent over the issue of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that evidence relevant to the British government’s intelligence assessments of Iraq’s weapons capabilities was systematically selected and suppressed in accordance with these prior ideologically-constrained policy imperatives.

Focusing primarily on the British response, this report undertakes a chronological and thematic examination of the intelligence available to the British government on Iraq’s weapons capabilities from 1991 to 2003. It explores the findings of respective UN weapons inspections organisations – namely UNSCOM and UNMOVIC; the relevant testimonials and statements of leading UN weapons inspectors, as well as other government officials and agencies; and some of the most pertinent revelations on British policy-planning from recently declassified documents. This report aims to gather together in summary form the most significant evidence relevant to understanding how Britain was able to go to war in Iraq on the basis of utterly false claims and beliefs. It is hoped that it can contribute to raising understanding among policymakers and the public of how the integrity of British intelligence can be compromised under the impact of diverse political and geopolitical pressures, and thus contribute toward greater openness and transparency in the conduct of foreign policy.

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