May 1, 2005

Blair MI6 2002 Iraq War Plans

Times (London) - May 2, 2005

May 02, 2005

Leak shows 'Blair set on Iraq war a year before invasion' By Michael Evans

The Prime Minister, eager to focus on more positive aspects of his strategy in the final week of campaigning, cannot yet put Middle East conflict behind him

IT WAS alleged yesterday that Tony Blair had decided on war with Iraq nearly a year before the invasion, according to leaked Downing Street documents.

The leak revealed what appeared to be minuted war preparations at the highest level of government in July 2002, months before Mr Blair received parliamentary approval for military action.However, Admiral Sir Michael (now Lord) Boyce, Chief of the Defence Staff at the time, told The Times that no decision for war had been taken at that stage.

Military sources admitted that contingency planning for an invasion of Iraq had begun in May 2002, a month after Mr Blair returned from a meeting with President Bush in America about possible action against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Military and intelligence officials said they were not given carte blanche to prepare for war until "much later in the year".

Lord Boyce said: "It would have been irresponsible not to have started making contingency preparations, but it was all done on a what-if basis. We were not in any sense hell-bent on war. The main thing was the diplomatic effort."

Lord Boyce spoke out after Downing Street minutes, marked "Secret and Strictly Personal - UK eyes only", detailing a meeting about Saddam Hussein in July 2002, were leaked to The Sunday Times. The minutes referred to a meeting between Mr Blair and other key figures, including Lord Boyce, Sir Richard Dearlove, then chief of MI6, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Goldsmith QC, the Attorney-General, and Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary.

The minutes read: "This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. The paper should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know."

At that stage, Mr Straw's view was that the case for war was "thin", and Lord Goldsmith was also giving warning of doubts about the legality of going to war. Mr Blair is recorded as having replied: "If the political context was right, people would support regime change."

Mr Straw came up with a possible solution. "We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN inspectors hunting for weapons of mass destruction," he said. If Saddam refused, Mr Straw argued, "this would help us with the legal justification for the use of force".

In April 2002, Mr Straw told MPs that no decisions about military action were likely to be made "for some time".

A leaked Foreign and Commonwealth Office briefing paper prepared for the July meeting made clear that Mr Blair told Mr Bush in April 2002 that Britain would support the US militarily to bring about Saddam's downfall - although, on July 17, the Prime Minister told MPs: "No decisions have yet been made."

A serving Whitehall official said it was wrong to suggest that final decisions had been taken in the early summer of 2002, even if the Prime Minister had offered to support the US. The official recalled that in 1998 America and Britain were "literally an hour away" from beginning air strikes after Saddam refused to co-operate with UN inspectors. "But the bombing was called off after Saddam suddenly agreed to let the inspectors do their work."

Lord Boyce backed up the official's claim that final decisions had not been made until much later in 2002. "We were told we had to wait for the diplomatic process to be exhausted and that Blair hadn't made up his mind," he said."The doubts about Britain's involvement went right up till the evening of the vote in the House of Commons a few days before the invasion."

US doubts about Britain's participation remained so strong until the last moment that Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, declared that the US would go it alone if necessary.


Downing Street memo of Prime Minister's meeting on Iraq, July 23, 2002 Jack Straw: "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran"

Conclusions of the Iraq meeting: "We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action . . . CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options"

Tony Blair, July 16, 2002, replying to questions on preparing for military action against Iraq: "No, there are no decisions which have been taken about military action"

July 17, 2003, at Question Time: "However, we will make sure that whatever we do, as I say constantly no decisions have yet been taken, should be in accordance with international law"

July 24, Question Time: "As I have already said, we have not taken the decision to commit British forces"

July 25, press conference: "I actually think we are all getting a bit ahead of ourselves on the issue of Iraq. As I have said before, action is not imminent; we are not at the point of decision"


Times (London) - May 1, 2005

The secret Downing Street memo

SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL- UK EYES ONLY DAVID MANNING From: Matthew Rycroft Date: 23 July 2002 S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad US options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.


(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week. (d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)


(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)


-- Virus Free GW Checked by AVG Anti-Virus. Version: 7.0.308 / Virus Database: 266.10.4 - Release Date: 27/04/2005


Gary Williams

No comments: