It has been fifteen years since British troops stormed their way through the Iraqi desert, along with their American allies, in a quest to topple ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein. For the first time since the Second World War, the United Kingdom took part in an opposed invasion and a full-scale occupation of a sovereign state. The decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq was made on 17 March 2003, and was ratified the next day by Parliament. Those who supported the use of military force depicted Saddam Hussein as a threat to the international world order. However, the invasion of 2003 failed in both its immediate and strategic objectives, and was the defining calamity of the post-Cold War era. It not only discredited intelligence services in both the UK and the US, damaged the UK’s military and political reputation, and left 179 British troops as well as tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, but also unleashed new threats to world order. Iraq’s decade of civil war has had a devastating effect on the country’s many minorities, and the power vacuum left after the war was filled by Al-Qaeda, which in due course became the progenitor of the Islamic State. Unsanctioned military intervention left Iraq in ruins, and the world a much more dangerous place. Nevertheless, the two leaders who ordered the invasion – George W. Bush and Tony Blair – continue to justify their decision primarily on the basis that it removed Saddam Hussein, and therefore rid the world of a cruel dictator.
After the events of 9/11, the calculus of risk changed and a climate of fear quickly emerged. Under the leadership of Tony Blair, the UK promised to stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the United States to defeat and eradicate international terrorism. It was in this context that Iraq returned with heightened importance to the international agenda. Both countries had advocated for regime change in Iraq before 9/11 and had led military campaigns in 1991 and 1998, in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and lack of compliancy with UNSCR’s. Moreover, Iraq was the subject of 18 UNSC resolutions from the Gulf War to the start of the 2003 campaign. However, until the September attacks, the threat posed by Iraq and WMD was one that the US and its closest allies were willing to tolerate. It was only after September 11 that this mind-set changed, and the choice to launch a pre-emptive war was made. This thesis will assess if the decision to use British military force in Iraq was a necessary step in the ‘war on terror,’ or whether it was a war of choice which cost the lives of countless innocent civilians and soldiers.
The use of military force in Iraq provoked profound controversy, undisputedly heighted when no WMD were recovered, and it was discovered that Iraq’s programmes to develop and produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons had been disassembled. This is clear through the unprecedented number of enquires that have been conducted in the aftermath of the Iraq War, such as the Hutton Report, Butler Inquiry and most recently Sir John Chilcot’s report. Never before has such an intensive period of enquiry occurred in the history of the UK intelligence community. Subsequently, much has been written on the Iraq War to determine why Britain joined the US in 2003. Therefore, historiography on the invasion of Iraq is enormously varied. Historians such as Peter Oborne, place the full blame on Tony Blair and his manipulation of intelligence reports to push forward his own agenda in the Middle East. Alternatively, David Coates and Joel Kreiger approach the topic in the context of the US-UK ‘special relationship’ and suggest there was pressure on the British government to comply with US demands. In addition, Blair’s new Labour sought to introduce an ‘ethical dimension’ to British foreign policy. Hence, moral intervention to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and stop the brutal oppression Saddam inflicted on his people could be justified. This wide range of modern scholarly literature provides a rich depth when researching the topic; however, the Iraq War is recent history and its consequences are far-reaching and affect the world to the present day. Subsequently, the majority of published material often attempts to promote a certain viewpoint forward to readers. This study will instead equally weigh up both arguments for and against intervention through analysing the evidence submitted to the various enquiries, memoirs of key players such as Jack Straw, Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell, speeches made to the UN and Parliament, UNMOVIC reports, in addition to recently declassified meeting minutes, memos and JIC assessments. As a result of the Iraq Inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot, previously top secret and classified documents were archived for public use in November 2017. Therefore, this thesis offers a unique insight into the British role in the Iraq War as many of the documents that are discussed have yet to be analysed in such depth.
The first chapter of this thesis will put forward the case for British military intervention in Iraq, and argue that the decision to join the United States in their ‘war on terror’, was justified. Key material used in this chapter includes Tony Blair’s personal memoirs which provide a unique insight into the decision-making process, and UN reports which highlight the potential threat of WMD in the region and the lack of cooperation from Saddam Hussein. The second chapter will suggest that in fact Britain had a choice and did not have to intervene in Iraq as there was no concrete proof of the threat of WMD, evidence was manipulated to persuade people of the necessity of war, it was not endorsed by the UNSC, and they had not exhausted all diplomatic options. It is imperative that both these perspectives are explored in order to achieve the aim of this thesis - to make a judgement on the necessity of British military intervention.
The importance of this study is undisputed as it continues to shape debates on national security policies and the circumstances under which intervention should occur. Military intervention in Iraq undoubtedly jeopardised the stability of not only the Middle East, but the world. We now know that despite intelligence reports suggesting otherwise, there was no WMD programme. We have witnessed the catastrophic aftermath to the Iraq War. But we must ask ourselves if the decision was made with the best intentions, and with Britain’s best interests at heart, or if Tony Blair and his Cabinet knowingly decided to enter Iraq without properly assessing the situation and exhausting all other options.
The Case for War
‘The case against President Saddam’s twelve-year history of obstructing
the United Nations’ attempts at disarmaments has never been better made’
- The Independent
On 6 July 2016, more than seven years after the report was commissioned by Prime Minster Gordon Brown, Sir John Chilcot announced the publication of the Iraq Inquiry. The report into the Iraq War runs to two million words, and provides a devastating critique of Blair and the British Government. Often referred to as the Chilcot Report, it concluded that the decision to invade Iraq was ‘based on flawed intelligence and assessments.’ No WMD were found in Iraq, discrediting both British and American Intelligence agencies, and the consequences of the ultimately unnecessary and dangerous invasion are still being felt today. However, one must consider the political climate and evidence available at the time by which the decision to join the US was made, to effectively determine whether Blair’s decision to take the UK into war against Iraq was necessary or not. This chapter will discuss the three main justifications of intervention; the impact of 9/11 and the fear of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, the threat of WMD, and finally the moral argument for intervention. Through the analysis of key material such as JIC Assessments and witness statements submitted to the Chilcot report, an argument will be made to support the UK’s decision on the 18 March 2003 to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.
The attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, shocked the world and was ‘in a very real sense, a declaration of war.’ Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Iraq Inquiry that the attacks had led to a consensus across the world ‘that a policy of tolerating failing or failed states was unacceptable. The perception of risk changed.’ The Chilcot Report reinforces this, when it concluded that 9/11 ‘fundamentally changed’ the US and the UK’s approach to Iraq. The 2003 invasion was not an isolated event, both the US and the UK had been party to military conflict with Iraq in 1991 and 1998, but after September 11, the ‘whole nature of security threat was altered’. 9/11 demonstrated the capacity and intent of terrorism. Governments around the world, especially those closely allied with the US, saw the need to take new measures of security to defeat this evil. Thus, after 9/11, the unresolved issue of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction from the 1991 Gulf War took on a new renewed political significance for the British Government. Iraq was always on the agenda, but the post 9/11 political landscape meant that the threat that Iraq posed, which had previously been contained by diplomatic means, was no longer willing to be tolerated by the allies. In addition, Iraq’s constant disregard for UNSCR’s and what Bromund describes as a ‘systemic campaign of evasion, concealment, and subterfuge,’ was no longer to be accepted. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would later call this ‘the prism of our experience on 9/11.’ In this context it is easier to understand how Blair and the British Government viewed military action as a necessity. At a time where fear dictated policy, Blair was faced with a new threat to Britain with no clear solution. Consequently, the belief that the free world was under attack was most certainly a driving force in the decision to go to war in Iraq for Blair, and therefore, many justified the decision as an act of self-defence.
In December 2001, George W. Bush classified Iraq as a country on the ‘axis of evil,’ and began to discuss the possibility of military action to prevent an attack they feared Saddam Hussein was capable of. We now know that the perpetrators of the attacks on 11 September 2001, Al—Qaeda, had no connection to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. However, history had shown Saddam to be untrustworthy and unpredictable, and if he did in fact possess WMD, nothing would prevent him from allowing terrorist groups to use them of outside of Iraq against the West. Although much of the evidence cited to support this was circumstantial, Blair was convinced that supporting the US was the right thing to do. Alistair Campbell outlines this poignantly by arguing that Blair was doing ‘what he believed to be the right thing for Britain, British people, and their security.’ From Blair’s perspective, not supporting Bush and the US in their hour of need would undermine the strength of the international community. Kennedy-Pipe and Vickers argue that this was the natural step for Blair as he was predisposed to support Bush due to his commitment to the international community. This is clearly highlighted in his speech on 11 September 2001:
This mass terrorism is the new evil in our world…we the democracies of the world must come together to defeat it and eradicate it. This is not a battle between the United States of America and terrorism, but between the free and democratic world and terrorism. We, therefore, here in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy, and we, like them, will not rest until this evil is driven from out world.
Blair’s support of the United States in their ‘war on terror’, and his belief in the importance of the ‘Special Relationship’ has come under much scrutiny. However, he considered the US to be of the utmost importance for Britain’s national and international security. Thereby, standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with America and ultimately joining their invasion of Iraq meant, in Blair’s opinion, keeping Britain’s best interests at heart, and was seen by those who supported invasion in 2003 as honourable. Lee argues there was very real belief that Britain was no longer safe in a world where Saddam Hussein had access to WMD. Therefore, the decision to commit British troops can be understood in this context; Blair and the British government viewed 9/11 as an attack on the UK as well, and in this climate of fear chose to commit themselves to the United States, who had begun to consider military action. This is a decision that Blair stands by despite facing intense criticism over his policy toward Iraq. When discussing his account of the 2003 intervention, Blair pointed to Saddam and his removal as a success; ‘All I know is that I did what I thought was right. I stood by America when it needed standing by. Together we rid the world of a tyrant.’ It is far too easy to criticise Blair and his Cabinet’s actions with the benefit of hindsight; not only did the 2003 invasion of Iraq remove one of the greatest threats to world security, but at a time where the free world was under attack, the reign of Saddam Hussein, and the perceived threat of WMD, could not have remained unchallenged.
Iraq’s alleged stockpile of WMD was described by Tony Blair as the casu belli for Iraq. In the wake of 9/11, the danger of Saddam Hussein authorising the launch of a missile to attack neighbouring states, or potentially reaching the UK, altered the allies’ views of Iraq. In April 2002, Blair reaffirmed this fear in his speech at the George Bush Senior Presidential Library, when he indicated that to allow WMD to be developed without hindrance by a state like Iraq, ‘would be grossly to ignore the lessons of September 11 and we will not do it.’ Evidently, it was no longer a situation they believed could be contained simply by diplomatic means.
Much has been written about the ‘flawed intelligence’ from which the decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq was made. However, the threat of WMD and CBW was very much a real fear for key decision makers in the British government. This is underlined in Campbell’s description of a Ministry of Defence briefing on military preparedness in the event of British troops coming under attack from biological or chemical weapons. He ascertains there was ‘not a person in that room who did not consider the threat to be real’ and recounts ‘a sense of fear which was matched by the looks of some of the faces in the room.’ Furthermore, when weapons inspectors entered Iraq in 1991 they found that the nuclear weapons programme was far more advanced than previously thought. They underestimated the threat in 1991 and did not want to repeat that mistake, hence the overestimation a decade later. Therefore, although the intelligence reports have since been proved inaccurate, one cannot discount the impact they had on the decision to invade Iraq. JIC assessments played a key role in convincing Blair and his Cabinet of the necessity of war to find and destroy all WMD in the region.
Between 1999 and September 2002, the JIC assessed that Iraq continued to hide its WMD work through a programme of concealment and deception, and was not compliant with any of the UN Security Council Resolutions. In May 2001, although their knowledge of developments in regards to Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missile programmes was ‘patchy’, the JIC judged that the intelligence it had gave grounds for concern as Iraq was becoming ‘bolder.’ This indicates that the WMD and nuclear weapons programme could have continued. Furthermore, this was clearly in defiance of UNSCR 707 which demanded ‘immediate, complete, full compliance with UNSCR 687’ whose terms included destroying all CBW and ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150km, an agreement to not develop nuclear weapons and to declare all weapons programs, as well as allowing on-site inspections. Moreover, the term ‘bolder’ insinuated Saddam Hussein had accelerated their production. Although there was no proof that Saddam was progressing with the production of WMD, there was also no clear evidence that he had gotten rid of the stockpiles of chemical weapons from the early 1990’s, or ceased the development of Iraq’s nuclear programme. This was reinforced in December 2001 in Simon McDonald’s letter to Michael Tatham which stated that Iraq was ‘concealing information about large quantities of chemical and biological munitions, agents and precursors.’ Such a defiance for international law could therefore justify a pre-emptive strike. This is exactly the case put forward to Cabinet, as a declassified briefing paper on Iraq sent to Mathew Rycroft on 6 March 2002 illustrates. The paper included a table summarising the requirements Iraq had to meet under the various UNSCR’s, and the regime’s record of compliance (Appendix 1). The table shows Saddam Hussein’s compliance had been ‘minimal.’ Hence, one can infer that the concealment of Iraq’s WMD work, and failure to comply with countless UNSCR requirements, led the British government to the conclusion that diplomatic action was no longer viable and more aggressive measures needed to be taken to assure that the threat from Iraq was extinguished.
In addition, Robert Jervis argues that Saddam’s refusal to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors, in spite of being faced with the ultimatum of Resolution 1441, gave the impression that he had something to hide. We now know that Saddam did dispose of these weapons, but this was not made clear on the international stage as his power base and regime relied on the perception that he possessed WMD. However at the time, the British government and Tony Blair were not aware of this, and due to Saddam’s long history of concealment and obstruction, they interpreted this as an attempt to covertly continue a WMD programme. This is evidenced in the final key point from the 2002 briefing paper on Iraq which questioned Saddam’s motives and suggested he was planning something untoward; ‘If Iraq poses no threat then why does he continue to refuse access to UN inspectors?’ Likewise, the FAC inquiry of July 2003 showed that there was a tendency to believe that Saddam had ‘something.’ In fact, Aldrich argues that almost all intelligence analysts, including those associated with UNSCOM and UNMOVIC, believed that Iraq still had some WMD capability.
The fear that this was the case in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was further compounded when he allowed weapons inspectors into the country. Han Blix, the Executive chairman of UNMOVIC reported to the UN on 7 March 2003 that although the Iraqi side had begun to take on numerous initiatives to resolve long-standing re-armament issues, ‘it cannot be said to constitute “immediate” cooperation’ as outlined in UNSCR 1441. It is important to note that even this increase in compliancy, occurred only when the prospect of military action became more real. Clearly, the UN route was taking a substantial amount of time to make inroads, whereas military threat proved to be much more effective. Consequently, one could argue that there was justification to use military force to assure cooperation, as Iraq was in breach of international law. Besides, it was vital for Blair and the British government that they did not make the mistake of waiting for too long and run the risk of a catastrophe like 9/11. Moreover, the discovery made by UNIMOVIC in late 2002, of illegally imported conventional arms including missiles with a range slightly greater than the permitted 150km, further compounded fears that Iraq may have a concealed WMD programme.
Additionally, the JIC Assessment of 9 September 2002 unequivocally specified that ‘Iraq has chemical and biological capability and Saddam is prepared to use it’ and that ‘Saddam is unlikely to be deterred from using chemical weapons by any diplomatic…means,’ implying they would need to be forcibly removed to no longer be a danger to the world. Although much of the paper was ‘necessarily based on judgement and assessment,’ similar to the March 2001 report, Saddam had possessed chemical weapons in the past and used them both internally against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s, and externally against Iran. Therefore, statements resembling those above would be justifiably alarming. In addition, the ISC concluded in September 2003 that:
There was convincing intelligence that Iraq had active chemical, biological and nuclear programmes and the capability to produce chemical and biological weapons. Iraq was also continuing to develop ballistic missiles. All these activities were prohibited under UNSCRs.
The assessment was sent to the Prime Minister at a crucial time in the decision-making process, days after a meeting with Bush, and not long before UNSC Resolution 1441 was adopted and the September Dossier outlining the case for war in Iraq based on WMD and the brutality of Saddam’s regime, was published. Although there is well-founded criticism of the September Dossier and the weakness of its intelligence that will be discussed in Chapter II, John Scarlett (Chairman of the JIC), categorically stated that ‘at no stage in the drafting process…was there an attempt, from No. 10 or elsewhere, to overrule the judgements of the JIC or my judgement as the person in charge.’ Therefore, the intelligence available at the time was deemed to be accurate and published in the September Dossier as justification for the invasion of Iraq. After this publication, it was clear that the British Government were decided on war and the threat of WMD was used as the main justification for military intervention on the grounds of self-defence, as evidenced when the Prime Minister addressed the House of Commons on the outbreak of hostilities (Appendix 2).
It is undeniable that the intelligence on Saddam and the WMD turned out to be incorrect. However, there is an argument to be made that had the UK not intervened when they did in 2003, UN inspections led by Hans Blix may have concluded that Saddam had given up his WMD ambitions only for him to begin their production again once sanctions dropped. Interestingly, Tony Blair puts forward this argument, and although it could be viewed as a desperate attempt for Blair to justify his actions, both the Butler Report of July 2004 and the ISG Report of September 2004 offer validation for it. The ISG team conducted interviews with key personnel from the regime, even securing interviews with Saddam himself. These interviews suggested he did conceal and remove evidence of active programmes for nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. However, the ISG discovered that this was a merely tactical decision starting in the mid-1990s in an effort to remove the sanctions that had been imposed upon his regime causing it to become severely constrained. It was designed to put the programmes into abeyance, not a strategic decision to abandon it. The ISG concluded that ‘Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capacity – which was essentially destroyed in 1999 – after the sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilised.’ This assessment was also endorsed in the Butler Report which determined that ‘the Iraqi regime had the strategic intention of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons programmes.’ Blair highlights that Saddam kept scientists and maintained labourites needed to reconstitute such programmes. This is not an undisputable thesis, but there is a case to be made that had the UK failed to act in 2003, Saddam would have re-emerged as a stronger threat than before. No WMD were ever discovered during the allied invasion of Iraq, therefore one can claim that it was justified as it stopped Saddam from ever re-launching the programmes.
Perhaps the hardest argument to negate that supports the invasion of Iraq in 2003, is the moral case for war. As evidence supporting the US and UK charges about Iraqi WMD and links to terrorism weakened, those who support the invasion have increasingly shifted their justification to the human rights violations perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s government. He was reviled as the leader of a government which not only oppressed its own people, but threatened regional stability. Under his rule, Iraqi’s were murdered, raped, imprisoned, mutilated, and traumatised (Appendix 3). Leitenberg accounted for 75,000 fatalities during the 1991 invasion of Kuwait, an illegal act of aggression instigated by Saddam, whilst Cordesman estimates there were 600,000-1.1 million fatalities during the Iran-Iraq War (Appendix 4). Furthermore, criminal law experts Newton and Scharf report young Iraqis being sent ‘without weapons en masse ahead of advancing military units to serve as human mine clearers’ in the Iraq-Iran War. In Blair’s own words, ‘if there was a people in need of liberation, it was surely the people of Iraq.’
From Kosovo to Iraq, Lee argues that crossing distant borders to preserve the lives of the innocent against their tyrannical oppressors was the ‘central pillar’ of Blair’s justification for military intervention. McHugh recognises the 1999 Chicago Speech served to formalise the conditions under which Blair believed military force could be used to promote human rights, by ascertaining that ‘acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter.’ Therefore, the brutal treatment of Iraqi’s provided grounds for military intervention just as it had done in Kosovo. Hence, Blair’s commitment to military intervention in Iraq can be attributed to his fundamental belief that Britain should act as a ‘force of good in the world,’ an idea he had championed since his election to office in 1997. Moreover, his dedication to this ‘ethical dimension’ of foreign policy surpassed the rights of states to non-interference as set out in the UN Charter. Therefore, Blair chose to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 without endorsement from the UN, as the moral obligation trumped UNSC approval. Surprisingly, when questioned over the potential deaths that could be caused as a result of intervention, Blair responded that ‘you had to decide what the greatest risk is and what the morally right thing to do is.’ Blair believed that this risk was justified as the only way to stop the persecution of Iraqi’s was through regime change. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook reinforces this by describing the absolute conviction Blair had in the case against Saddam. Cook resigned from his positions in office on 17 March 2003 in protest of the Iraq War, however he acknowledged that Blair ‘never doubted the rest of the world would come to see it his way.’ Hence, it is possible he assumed the UN would agree to assist with rebuilding Iraq and offer humanitarian aid after the initial invasion, which subsequently would have prevented the humanitarian crisis that arose from allied intervention in Iraq. The importance of the moral case for war was highlighted in Blair’s speech to the House on 18 March 2018, the day the use of military force in Iraq was ratified:
I say frankly if we do act, we should do so with a clear conscience and a strong heart…the brutality of the repression – the death and torture camps, the barbaric prisons for political opponents, the routine beatings for anyone or their families suspected of disloyalty – is well documented.
The moral case for action was never absent from Blair’s psyche as it provided the final part of his speech and its peroration, perhaps subconsciously echoing the Chicago Speech of 1999. Thereby, emphasising the key role humanitarian intervention played in justifying military force. The speech garnered widespread praise from the media and politicians alike, unquestionably indicating the moral case for intervention was not only popular, but seemingly justified at the time. Those who opposed the war questioned why military intervention was necessary now when the people of Iraq had suffered from oppression for more than a decade. Straw’s succinct response perhaps encapsulates the mind-set of the British government best; ‘to suggest today that to atone for the errors of the past we should repeat them, and that we cannot act to address the horrors of the present defies rational analysis.’
Although it is a divisive opinion in today’s political climate, the British invasion of Iraq can be, to some extent, justified. One cannot ignore the impact September 11 had on the international community, particularly the US and the UK. It was in this context, fear arose that Saddam Hussein, a cruel and morally corrupt dictator who had oppressed his own people for decades, could threaten the world order. The magnitude of Iraq’s weapons programmes was not known, but Saddam’s history of concealment, coupled with JIC assessments which suggested defiance of UNSCR’s, led the coalition to believe the only way to ensure the safety of the international community, was through military intervention.
‘There is an alternative to war: disarming Iraq through inspections’
- Dominique de Villepin
Approximately two million people took to the streets of London on 15 February 2003 in the largest peace-time protest the Nation had ever seen, to voice their opposition to military action against Iraq. On the very same morning, Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed his party at its Spring conference and stepped up his pro-war rhetoric, insisting that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein would be an ‘act of humanity,’ and not taking action would mean Saddam remains the leader of a regime that ‘contravenes every single principle or value anyone in our politics believes in.’ As discussed in Chapter I, Blair whole-heartedly believed it was a necessity for the UK to join the US-led invasion of Iraq, and he used this opportunity to dismiss public opposition to military intervention as sanctimonious and naïve. However, this black and white perspective is not a reflection of the truth. This chapter will argue that there was no threat to Britain from Saddam Hussein, and Blair knowingly ordered British troops into Iraq without just cause. Therefore the ‘unintended consequences,’ were entirely avoidable.
As discussed earlier, the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001 was a deadly assault that presented a new threat to world security. However, Al-Qaeda’s attack on the US provided the ideal pretext to finally achieving the collapse of Saddam Hussein. The US adopted a guise of preventative self-defence in the wake of 9/11, to justify the need to invade Iraq and remove Saddam from power, and the UK willingly pledged their support. Crucially, the requirement for a pre-emptive strike – an imminent threat – was absent. To rectify this, Blair repeatedly implied connections between the attacks on 11 September, Iraq, WMD, and terrorist threats to the world, including the claim that ‘terrorism and WMD are linked dangers.’ This language of fear was an attempt to use 9/11 to justify military invasion. However, a recently declassified memo sent to Blair states that there were ‘no anti-terrorist grounds for Stage 2 military action against Iraq.’ The JIC concluded that after The Gulf War, Iraq had been cautious about terrorist attacks abroad and ‘had no responsibility for the 11 September attacks and no significant links to Al-Qaeda.’ Hence, the notion of an alliance was invented to provide an easy answer to the question: why are you invading Iraq, when you say the greatest threat to the free world is Al-Qaeda? It was used to provide justification for what can only be described as a war of choice.
Furthermore, the government was all too keen to bring intelligence assessments of the alleged threat from Iraq’s WMD to public attention, but did not reveal that UK intelligence services had warned that the threat of terrorism in the UK was likely to be heightened as a result of British participation in the invasion of Iraq. Sir David Omand told the Iraq Inquiry that by 10 October 2002, the JIC warned that Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups may initiate attacks on Western targets, in response to coalition action in Iraq. This evidence was endorsed by Deputy Director General of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller, who in March 2002 believed the threat from Iraq was ‘very limited and containable.’ Additionally, she was convinced if ministers read JIC assessments they would have no doubt that the invasion of Iraq would increase the threat to Britain from Al-Qaeda. However, the government chose to keep silent regarding these pre-war intelligence assessments which according to Oborne could have changed the outcome of the vote on 18 March 2003. Instead, Blair allowed them to believe they were voting to combat terrorism and to protect national interest. Clearly, Blair was building a case for war all the while knowing that the threat from Iraq had not changed following 9/11, and there was no immediate danger to the UK.
Oborne argues that this manipulation of the truth emerged from Blair’s ‘determination to stick with the American president of the day, whoever he is and whatever he stands for.’ Blair’s note to the President of the United States in July 2002 illustrates that it was not necessary for the UK to invade Iraq, but rather Blair chose to commit himself to Washington, and therefore made the conscious decision that if Bush decided to sanction military force against Iraq, Britain would follow regardless. Eight months before the Iraq invasion, Blair pledged his unqualified backing to the US in a six-page secret memo to the President that began with ‘I will be with you whatever.’ This reinforces Coates and Kreiger’s view that the UK went to war to keep on the right side of Washington. Moreover, the end of the memo suggests that the argument against military intervention was never considered; ‘the crucial thing is not when, but how.’ It is clear at this point that Blair had decided to follow the US, no matter what the cost and regardless whether or not military action was a necessary step to protect the UK and the wider international community, reinforcing the theory that military conflict in Iraq was a war of choice. In an interview with The Guardian on 1 March 2003, when asked why he was falling in line with US policy against Iraq, Blair replied ‘I believe in it. I am truly committed to dealing with this irrespective of the position of America.’ However, both these declassified documents depict the prime minister as blindly supporting American policy towards Iraq. Although Riddell argues Blair was not Bush’s ‘poodle,’ Auzbuike’s theory can effectively be applied here. The Prime Minister and his government did not scrutinise US policy making enough to justify following them, and their unreliable intelligence, into war. Coughlin describes how in order to maintain the ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK, Blair ‘avoided asking the difficult questions’ and instead tried to focus on the broad goals they shared, even if that meant he tended to ‘gloss over deep policy differences’ such as the relevance of international law when invading Iraq. The UK deserved a leader who asked these difficult questions, to prevent the nation being dragged into an unnecessary war and a humanitarian disaster.
During the release of the Iraq Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq ‘before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.’ He went on to further emphasise that military action at that time was not a last resort, and therefore could have been avoided. Outlined by Blair himself in the 1999 Chicago speech, exhaustion of all diplomatic routes was one of the five main conditions that needed to be fulfilled to justify intervention. The lack of compliancy from Iraq and the defiance of multiple UNSCR’s is often used to justify British intervention, as detailed in Chapter I. However, after the President addressed the UN General Assembly and threatened US military action, with or without UN approval, if Saddam Hussein would not accept one final request to comply with UN Resolutions, Iraq told the UN that it would allow the return of weapons inspectors. Consequently, a few days after the council adopted Resolution 1441, Iraq accepted its terms unconditionally, and on 27 November 2002, UNIMOVIC inspectors met no obstructions from Saddam’s regime and were given access to every site they asked to inspect. During the three months they were in Iraq, although Saddam was not totally compliant or cooperative, more than 900 inspections were conducted at over 500 sites. As a matter of fact, JIC member William Ehrman told the FAC that ‘every single site’ mentioned in the government’s dossier on Iraq’s WMD had been visited by UNIMOVIC, and no trace of WMD had been found. Henceforth, the majority of the UN Security council members wanted the weapons inspectors to continue their work until they could be sure Iraq was disarmed as required by Security Council resolutions, or until they were unable to complete their work due to Iraqi obstruction. This was a tenable request and a worthy diplomatic alternative to military action; Iraq had begun to comply with UNSC requests, no WMD had been found, and intervention in such an unstable region would aggravate tensions and risk paving the way for other conflicts with ‘incalculable consequences.’ As French Diplomatic Advisor Gordault-Montagne declared, in these circumstances it was ‘not right to rush into war.’ French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, on 14 February 2003, had set out a course of action which Oborne believed would have most probably resulted in a peaceful resolution of the Iraq crisis. However, it had been obvious since Blair’s meeting with Bush at Crawford that the US were going to launch
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