Executive Summary of the Iraq Inquiry


Other Formats: Plain Text, Kindle .mobi.



Table of Contents



Decision-making


The way in which the policy on Iraq was developed and decisions were taken and implemented within the UK Government has been at the heart of the Inquiry's work and fundamental to its conclusions.

The Inquiry has set out in Section 2 of the Report the roles and responsibilities of key individuals and bodies in order to assist the reader. It is also publishing with the Report many of the documents which illuminate who took the key decisions and on what basis, including the full record of the discussion on Iraq in Cabinet on five key occasions pre-conflict, and policy advice to Ministers which is not normally disclosed.

Collective responsibility

Under UK constitutional conventions – in which the Prime Minister leads the Government – Cabinet is the main mechanism by which the most senior members of the Government take collective responsibility for its most important decisions. Cabinet is supported by a system of Ministerial Committees whose role is to identify, test and develop policy options; analyse and mitigate risks; and debate and hone policy proposals until they are endorsed across the Government.178

Notes (hide):

178: Ministerial Code, 2001, page 3.

The Ministerial Code in place in 2003 said:

"The Cabinet is supported by Ministerial Committees (both standing and ad hoc) which have a two-fold purpose. First, they relieve the pressure on the Cabinet itself by settling as much business as possible at a lower level or, failing that, by clarifying the issues and defining the points of disagreement. Second, they support the principle of collective responsibility by ensuring that, even though an important question may never reach the Cabinet itself, the decision will be fully considered and the final judgement will be sufficiently authoritative to ensure that the Government as a whole can properly be expected to accept responsibility for it."179

Notes (hide):

179: Ministerial Code, 2001, page 3.

The Code also said:

"The business of the Cabinet and Ministerial Committees consists in the main of:

  1. questions which significantly engage the collective responsibility of the Government because they raise major issues of policy or because they are of critical importance to the public;

  2. questions on which there is an unresolved argument between Departments."

Lord Wilson of Dinton told the Inquiry that between January 1998 and January 1999, in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of Operation Desert Fox in December 1998 (see Section 1.1), as Cabinet Secretary, he had attended and noted 21 Ministerial discussions on Iraq: 10 in Cabinet, of which seven had "some substance"; five in DOP; and six ad hoc meetings, including one JIC briefing.180 Discussions in Cabinet or a Cabinet Committee would have been supported by the relevant part of the Cabinet Secretariat, the Overseas and Defence Secretariat (OD Sec).

Notes (hide):

180: Public hearing, 25 January 2011, page 11.

Similarly, Lord Wilson stated that, between 11 September 2001 and January 2002, the Government's response to international terrorism and the subsequent military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan had been managed through 46 Ministerial meetings.181

Notes (hide):

181: Public hearing, 25 January 2011, page 11.

The last meeting of DOP on Iraq before the 2003 conflict, however, took place in March 1999.182

Notes (hide):

182: Email Cabinet Office to Secretary Iraq Inquiry, 5 July 2011, 'FOI request for joint MOD/FCO memo on Iraq Policy 1999'.

In April 2002, the MOD clearly expected consideration of military options to be addressed through DOP. Mr Simon Webb, the MOD Policy Director, advised Mr Hoon that:

"Even these preparatory steps would properly need a Cabinet Committee decision, based on a minute from the Defence Secretary ..."183

Most decisions on Iraq pre-conflict were taken either bilaterally between Mr Blair and the relevant Secretary of State or in meetings between Mr Blair, Mr Straw and Mr Hoon, with No.10 officials and, as appropriate, Mr John Scarlett (Chairman of the JIC), Sir Richard Dearlove and Adm Boyce. Some of those meetings were minuted; some were not.

As the guidance for the Cabinet Secretariat makes clear, the purpose of the minute of a meeting is to set out the conclusions reached so that those who have to take action know precisely what to do; the second purpose is to "give the reasons why the conclusions were reached".184

Notes (hide):

184: Cabinet Office, June 2001,Guide to Minute Taking.

Lord Turnbull, Cabinet Secretary from 2002 to 2005, described Mr Blair's characteristic way of working with his Cabinet colleagues as:

"… 'I like to move fast. I don't want to spend a lot of time in kind of conflict resolution, and, therefore, I will get the people who will make this thing move quickly and efficiently.' That was his sort of characteristic style, but it has drawbacks."185

Notes (hide):

185: Public hearing, 13 January 2010, page 28.

Lord Turnbull subsequently told the Inquiry that the group described above was "a professional forum ... they had ... with one possible exception [Ms Clare Short, the International Development Secretary], the right people in the room. It wasn't the kind of sofa government in the sense of the Prime Minister and his special advisers and political cronies".186

Notes (hide):

186: Public hearing, 13 January 2010, pages 45-46.

In July 2004, Lord Butler's Report stated that his Committee was:

"... concerned that the informality and circumscribed character of the Government's procedures which we saw in the context of policy-making towards Iraq risks reducing the scope for informed collective political judgement. Such risks are particularly significant in a field like the subject of our Review, where hard facts are inherently difficult to come by and the quality of judgement is accordingly all the more important."187

Notes (hide):

187: Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction[""The Butler Report""], 14 July 2004, HC 898.

In response, Mr Blair agreed that:

"... where a small group is brought together to work on operational military planning and developing the diplomatic strategy, in future such a group will operate formally as an ad hoc Cabinet Committee."188

Notes (hide):

188: Cabinet Office, Review on Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction: Implementation of its Conclusions, March 2005, Cm6492.

The Inquiry considers that where policy options include significant military deployments, particularly where they will have implications for the responsibilities of more than one Cabinet Minister, are likely to be controversial, and/or are likely to give rise to significant risks, the options should be considered by a group of Ministers meeting regularly, whether or not they are formally designated as a Cabinet Committee, so that Cabinet as a whole can be enabled to take informed collective decisions.

Describing the important function a Cabinet Committee can play, Mr Powell wrote:

"Most of the important decisions of the Blair Government were taken either in informal meetings of Ministers and officials or by Cabinet Committees ... Unlike the full Cabinet, a Cabinet Committee has the right people present, including, for example, the military Chiefs of Staff or scientific advisers, its members are well briefed, it can take as long as it likes over its discussion on the basis of well-prepared papers, and it is independently chaired by a senior Minister with no departmental vested interest."189

Notes (hide):

189: Powell J. The New Machiavelli: How to wield power in the modern world. The Bodley Head, 2010.

The Inquiry concurs with this description of the function of a Cabinet Committee when it is working well. In particular, it recognises the important function which a Minister without departmental responsibilities for the issues under consideration can play. This can provide some external challenge from experienced members of the government and mitigate any tendency towards group-think. In the case of Iraq, for example, the inclusion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Deputy Prime Minister, as senior members of the Cabinet, or of Mr Cook, as a former Foreign Secretary known to have concerns about the policy, could have provided an element of challenge.

Mr Powell likewise recognises the importance of having written advice which can be seen before a meeting, allowing all those present to have shared information and the opportunity to digest it and seek further advice if necessary. This allows the time in meetings to be used productively.

The Inquiry considers that there should have been collective discussion by a Cabinet Committee or small group of Ministers on the basis of inter-departmental advice agreed at a senior level between officials at a number of decision points which had a major impact on the development of UK policy before the invasion of Iraq. Those were:

  • The decision at the beginning of December 2001 to offer to work with President Bush on a strategy to deal with Iraq as part of Phase 2 of the "War on Terror", despite the fact that there was no evidence of any Iraqi involvement with the attacks on the US or active links to Al Qaida.

  • The adoption of the position at the end of February 2002 that Iraq was a threat which had to be dealt with, together with the assumption that the only certain means to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime was to invade Iraq and impose a new government.

  • The position Mr Blair should adopt in discussions with President Bush at Crawford in April 2002. The meeting at Chequers on 2 April was given a presentation on the military options and did not explore the political and legal implications of a conflict with Iraq. There was no FCO representative at the Chequers meeting and no subsequent meeting with Mr Straw and Mr Hoon.

  • The position Mr Blair should adopt in his discussion with President Bush at Camp David on 5 and 6 September 2002. Mr Blair's long Note of 28 July, telling President Bush "I will be with you, whatever", was seen, before it was sent, only by No.10 officials. A copy was sent afterwards to Mr Straw, but not to Mr Hoon. While the Note was marked "Personal" (to signal that it should have a restricted circulation), it represented an extensive statement of the UK Government's position by the Prime Minister to the President of the United States. The Foreign and Defence Secretaries should certainly have been given an opportunity to comment on the draft in advance.

  • A discussion in mid-September 2002 on the need for robust post-conflict planning.

  • The decision on 31 October 2002 to offer ground forces to the US for planning purposes.

  • The decision on 17 January 2003 to deploy large scale ground forces for operations in southern Iraq.

  • The position Mr Blair should adopt in his discussion with President Bush in Washington on 31 January 2003.

  • The proposals in Mr Blair's Note to President Bush of 19 February suggesting a deadline for a vote in the Security Council of 14 March.

  • A review of UK policy at the end of February 2003 when the inspectors had found no evidence of WMD and there was only limited support for the second resolution in the Security Council.

  • The question of whether Iraq had committed further material breaches as specified in operative paragraph 4 of resolution 1441 (2002), as posed in Mr Brummell's letter of 14 March to Mr Rycroft.

In addition to providing a mechanism to probe and challenge the implications of proposals before decisions were taken, a Cabinet Committee or a more structured process might have identified some of the wider implications and risks associated with the deployment of military forces to Iraq. It might also have offered the opportunity to remedy some of the deficiencies in planning which are identified in Section 6 of the Report. There will, of course, be other policy issues which would benefit from the same approach.

Cabinet has a different role to that of a Cabinet Committee.

Mr Powell has written that:

"... Cabinet is the right place to ratify decisions, the right place for people to raise concerns if they have not done so before, the right place for briefings by the Prime Minister and other Ministers on strategic issues, the right place to ensure political unity; but it is categorically not the right place for an informed decision on difficult and detailed policy issues."190

Notes (hide):

190: Powell J. The New Machiavelli: How to wield power in the modern world. The Bodley Head, 2010.

In 2009, in a statement explaining a Cabinet decision to veto the release of minutes of one of its meetings under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Mr Straw explained the need for frank discussion at Cabinet very cogently:

"Serious and controversial decisions must be taken with free, frank – even blunt deliberations between colleagues. Dialogue must be fearless. Ministers must have the confidence to challenge each other in private. They must ensure that decisions have been properly thought through, sounding out all possibilities before committing themselves to a course of action. They must not feel inhibited from advancing options that may be unpopular or controversial. They must not be deflected from expressing dissent by the fear that they may be held personally to account for views that are later cast aside."191

Notes (hide):

191: Statement J Straw, 23 February 2009, 'Exercise of the Executive Override under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in respect of the decision of the Information Commissioner dated 3. February 2008 (Ref: FS50165372) as upheld by the decision of the Information Tribunal of 27 January 2009 (Ref: EA/2008/0024 and EA/2008/0029): Statement of Reasons'.

Mr Blair told the Inquiry that:

"... the discussion that we had in Cabinet was substantive discussion. We had it again and again and again, and the options were very simple. The options were: a sanctions framework that was effective; alternatively, the UN inspectors doing the job; alternatively, you have to remove Saddam. Those were the options."192

Notes (hide):

192: Public hearing, 29 January 2010, page 22.

Mr Blair added:

"Nobody in the Cabinet was unaware of ... what the whole issue was about. It was the thing running throughout the whole of the political mainstream at the time. There were members of the Cabinet who would challenge and disagree, but most of them agreed."193

Notes (hide):

193: Public hearing, 29 January 2010, pages 228-229.

The Inquiry has seen the minutes of 26 meetings of Cabinet between 28 February 2002 and 17 March 2003 at which Iraq was mentioned and Cabinet Secretariat notebooks. Cabinet was certainly given updates on diplomatic developments and had opportunities to discuss the general issues. The number of occasions on which there was a substantive discussion of the policy was very much more limited.

There were substantive discussions of the policy on Iraq, although not necessarily of all the issues (as the Report sets out), in Cabinet on 7 March and 23 September 2002 and 16 January, 13 March and 17 March 2003. Those are the records which are being published with the Report.

At the Cabinet meeting on 7 March 2002, Mr Blair concluded:

"... the concerns expressed in discussion were justified. It was important that the United States did not appear to be acting unilaterally. It was critically important to reinvigorate the Middle East Peace Process. Any military action taken against President Saddam Hussein's regime had to be effective. On the other hand, the Iraqi regime was in clear breach of its obligations under several United Nations Security Council resolutions. Its WMD programmes posed a threat to peace. Iraq's neighbours regarded President Saddam Hussein as a danger. The right strategy was to engage closely with the Government of the United States in order to be in a position to shape policy and its presentation. The international community should proceed in a measured but determined way to decide how to respond to the real threat represented by the Iraqi regime. No decisions to launch military action had been taken and any action taken would be in accordance with international law. "The Cabinet, 'Took note, with approval.'"194

Cabinet on 17 March 2003 noted Mr Blair's conclusion that "the diplomatic process was at an end; Saddam Hussein would be given an ultimatum to leave Iraq; and the House of Commons would be asked to endorse the use of military action against Iraq to enforce compliance, if necessary".

In Section 5 of the Report, the Inquiry concludes that Lord Goldsmith should have been asked to provide written advice which fully reflected the position on 17 March and explained the legal basis on which the UK could take military action and set out the risks of legal challenge.

There was no substantive discussion of the military options, despite promises by Mr Blair, before the meeting on 17 March.

In his statement for the Inquiry, Mr Hoon wrote that by the time he joined Cabinet, in 1999:

"... the pattern of the organisation and format of Cabinet meetings was ... well established. Tony Blair was well known to be extremely concerned about leaks from Cabinet discussions ... It was my perception that, largely as a consequence of this, he did not normally expect key decisions to be made in the course of Cabinet meetings. Papers were submitted to the Cabinet Office, and in turn by the Cabinet Office to appropriate Cabinet Committees for decisions."195

Notes (hide):

195: Statement, 2 April 2015, page 1.

Mr Hoon wrote:

"At no time when I was serving in the Ministry of Defence were other Cabinet Ministers involved in discussions about the deployment of specific forces and the nature of their operations. Relevant details would have been circulated to 10 Downing Street or other Government departments as necessary ... I do not recall a single Cabinet level discussion of specific troop deployments and the nature of their operations."196

Notes (hide):

196: Statement, 2 April 2015, page 2.

The Inquiry recognises that there will be operational constraints on discussion of the details of military deployments, but that would not preclude the discussion of the principles and the implications of military options.

In January 2006, the Cabinet discussed the proposal to deploy military forces to Helmand later that year.

The Inquiry also recognises that the nature of foreign policy, as the Report vividly demonstrates, requires the Prime Minister of the UK, the Foreign Secretary and their most senior officials to be involved in negotiating and agreeing policy on a day-by-day, and sometimes hour-by-hour basis.

It would neither be necessary nor feasible to seek a mandate from Cabinet at each stage of a discussion. That reinforces the importance of ensuring Cabinet is kept informed as strategy evolves, is given the opportunity to raise questions and is asked to endorse key decisions. Cabinet Ministers need more information than will be available from the media, especially on sensitive issues of foreign and security policy.

In 2009, three former Cabinet Secretaries197 told the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution:

Notes (hide):

197: Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, Lord Butler of Brockwell and Lord Wilson of Dinton.

"... each of us, as Secretary of the Cabinet, has been constantly conscious of his responsibility to the Cabinet collectively and of the need to have regard to the needs and responsibilities of the other members of the Cabinet (and indeed of other Ministers) as well of those of the Prime Minister. That has coloured our relationships with Number 10 as well as those with other Ministers and their departments."198

Notes (hide):

198: Fourth Report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, Session 2009-10, The Cabinet Office and the Centre of Government, HL Paper 30.

Lord Turnbull told the Inquiry that Mr Blair:

"... wanted a step change in the work on delivery and reform, which I hope I managed to give him. Now ... how does the Cabinet Secretary work? You come in and you are – even with the two roles that you have, head of an organisation of half a million civil servants and in some sense co-ordinating a public sector of about five million people. You have to make choices as to where you make your effort, and I think the policy I followed was not to take an issue over from someone to whom it was delegated simply because it was big and important, but you have to make a judgement as to whether it is being handled competently, whether that particular part is, in a sense, under pressure, whether you think they are getting it wrong in some sense, or they are missing certain important things."199

Notes (hide):

199: Public hearing, 13 January 2010, page 3.

The responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that members of Cabinet are fully engaged in ways that allow them to accept collective responsibility and to meet their departmental obligations nevertheless remains.


Next Section: Advice on the legal basis for military action

Table of Contents


Notes:

178: Ministerial Code, 2001, page 3.

179: Ministerial Code, 2001, page 3.

180: Public hearing, 25 January 2011, page 11.

181: Public hearing, 25 January 2011, page 11.

182: Email Cabinet Office to Secretary Iraq Inquiry, 5 July 2011, 'FOI request for joint MOD/FCO memo on Iraq Policy 1999'.

183: Minute Webb to PS/Secretary of State, 12 April 2002, 'Bush and the War on Terrorism'.

184: Cabinet Office, June 2001,Guide to Minute Taking.

185: Public hearing, 13 January 2010, page 28.

186: Public hearing, 13 January 2010, pages 45-46.

187: Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction[""The Butler Report""], 14 July 2004, HC 898.

188: Cabinet Office, Review on Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction: Implementation of its Conclusions, March 2005, Cm6492.

189: Powell J. The New Machiavelli: How to wield power in the modern world. The Bodley Head, 2010.

190: Powell J. The New Machiavelli: How to wield power in the modern world. The Bodley Head, 2010.

191: Statement J Straw, 23 February 2009, 'Exercise of the Executive Override under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in respect of the decision of the Information Commissioner dated 3. February 2008 (Ref: FS50165372) as upheld by the decision of the Information Tribunal of 27 January 2009 (Ref: EA/2008/0024 and EA/2008/0029): Statement of Reasons'.

192: Public hearing, 29 January 2010, page 22.

193: Public hearing, 29 January 2010, pages 228-229.

194: Cabinet Conclusions, 7 March 2002.

195: Statement, 2 April 2015, page 1.

196: Statement, 2 April 2015, page 2.

197: Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, Lord Butler of Brockwell and Lord Wilson of Dinton.

198: Fourth Report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, Session 2009-10, The Cabinet Office and the Centre of Government, HL Paper 30.

199: Public hearing, 13 January 2010, page 3.