Executive Summary of the Iraq Inquiry


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Planning for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq


The failure to plan or prepare for known risks

The information on Iraq available to the UK Government before the invasion provided a clear indication of the potential scale of the post-conflict task.

It showed that, in order to achieve the UK's desired end state, any post-conflict administration would need to:

  • restore infrastructure that had deteriorated significantly in the decade since 1991, to the point where it was not capable of meeting the needs of the Iraqi people;

  • administer a state where the upper echelons of a regime that had been in power since 1968 had been abruptly removed and in which the capabilities of the wider civil administration, many of whose employees were members of the ruling party, were difficult to assess; and

  • provide security in a country faced with a number of potential threats, including: - internecine violence;

  • terrorism; and

  • Iranian interference.

In December 2002, the MOD described the post-conflict phase of operations as "strategically decisive".201 But when the invasion began, the UK Government was not in a position to conclude that satisfactory plans had been drawn up and preparations made to meet known post-conflict challenges and risks in Iraq and to mitigate the risk of strategic failure.

Throughout the planning process, the UK assumed that the US would be responsible for preparing the post-conflict plan, that post-conflict activity would be authorised by the UN Security Council, that agreement would be reached on a significant post-conflict role for the UN and that international partners would step forward to share the post-conflict burden.

On that basis, the UK planned to reduce its military contribution in Iraq to medium scale within four months of the start of the invasion202 and expected not to have to make a substantial commitment to post-conflict administration.203

Achieving that outcome depended on the UK's ability to persuade the US of the merits of a significant post-conflict role for the UN.

The UK could not be certain at any stage in the year before the invasion that it would succeed in that aim.

In January 2003, the UK sought to persuade the US of the benefits of UN leadership of Iraq's interim post-conflict civil administration.204 Officials warned that, to post-conflict Iraq'. if the UK failed to persuade the US, it risked "being drawn into a huge commitment of UK resources for a highly complex task of administration and law and order for an uncertain period".

Notes (hide):

204: Minute Ricketts to Private Secretary [FCO], 7 February 2003, 'Iraq Strategy'.

By March 2003, having failed to persuade the US of the advantages of a UN-led interim administration, the UK had set the less ambitious goal of persuading the US to accept UN authorisation of a Coalition-led interim administration and an international presence that would include the UN.205

Notes (hide):

205: Paper Iraq Planning Unit, 25 March 2003, 'Iraq: Phase IV: Authorising UNSCR'.

On 19 March, Mr Blair stated in Parliament that discussions were taking place with the US, UN and others on the role of the UN and post-conflict issues.206

Notes (hide):

206: House of Commons,Official Report, 19 March 2003, columns 931-932.

Discussions continued, but, as the invasion began:

  • The UK had not secured US agreement to a Security Council resolution authorising post-conflict administration and could not be sure when, or on what terms, agreement would be possible.

  • The extent of the UN's preparations, which had been hindered by the absence of agreement on post-conflict arrangements, remained uncertain. Mr Annan emphasised to Ms Short the need for clarity on US thinking so that UN planning could proceed207 and told Sir Jeremy Greenstock that he "would not wish to see any arrangement subjugating UN activity to Coalition activity".208

  • Potential international partners for reconstruction and additional Coalition partners to provide security continued to make their post-conflict contributions conditional on UN authorisation for Phase IV (the military term for post-conflict operations).209

Notes (hide):

207: Telegram 501 UKMIS New York to FCO London, 21 March 2003, 'Iraq Humanitarian/Reconstruction: Clare Short's Visit to New York'.

208: Telegram 526 UKMIS New York to FCO London, 25 March 2003, 'Iraq Phase IV: UN Dynamics'.

209: Paper FCO, 25 March 2003, 'Iraq: Phase IV Issues'.

Despite being aware of the shortcomings of the US plan,210 strong US resistance to a leading role for the UN,211 indications that the UN did not want the administration of Iraq to become its responsibility212 and a warning about the tainted image of the UN in Iraq,213 at no stage did the UK Government formally consider other policy options, including the possibility of making participation in military action conditional on a satisfactory plan for the post-conflict period, or how to mitigate the known risk that the UK could find itself drawn into a "huge commitment of UK resources" for which no contingency preparations had been made.

Notes (hide):

210: Minute Drummond to Rycroft, 19 March 2003, 'Iraq Ministerial Meeting'.

211: Minute Ricketts to Private Secretary [FCO], 7 February 2003, 'Iraq Strategy'.

212: Public hearing, 15 December 2009, page 5.

213: Paper Middle East Department, 12 December 2002, 'Interim Administrations in Iraq: Why a UN-led Interim Administration would be in the US interest'.

The planning process and decision-making

As a junior partner in the Coalition, the UK worked within a planning framework established by the US. It had limited influence over a process dominated increasingly by the US military.

The creation of the Ad Hoc Group on Iraq in September 2002 and the Iraq Planning Unit in February 2003 improved co-ordination across government at official level, but neither body carried sufficient authority to establish a unified planning process across the four principal departments involved – the FCO, the MOD, DFID and the Treasury – or between military and civilian planners.

Important material, including in the DFID reviews of northern and southern Iraq, and significant pieces of analysis, including the series of MOD Strategic Planning Group (SPG) papers on military strategic thinking, were either not shared outside the originating department, or, as appears to have been the case with the SPG papers, were not routinely available to all those with a direct interest in the contents.

Some risks were identified, but departmental ownership of those risks, and responsibility for analysis and mitigation, were not clearly established.

When the need to plan and prepare for the worst case was raised, including by MOD officials in advice to Mr Hoon on 6 March 2003,214 Lieutenant General John Reith, Chief of Joint Operations, in his paper for the Chiefs of Staff on 21 March215 and in Treasury advice to Mr Brown on 24 March,216 there is no evidence that any department or individual assumed ownership or was assigned responsibility for analysis or mitigation. No action ensued.

In April 2003, Mr Blair set up the Ad Hoc Ministerial Group on Iraq Rehabilitation (AHMGIR), chaired by Mr Straw, to oversee the UK contribution to post-conflict reconstruction.

Until the creation of the AHMGIR, Mr Straw, Mr Hoon and Ms Short remained jointly responsible for directing post-conflict planning and preparation.

In the absence of a single person responsible for overseeing all aspects of planning and preparation, departments pursued complementary, but separate, objectives. Gaps in UK capabilities were overlooked.

The FCO, which focused on policy-making and negotiation, was not equipped by past experience or practice, or by its limited human and financial resources, to prepare for nation-building of the scale required in Iraq, and did not expect to do so.

DFID's focus on poverty reduction and the channelling of assistance through multilateral institutions instilled a reluctance, before the invasion, to engage on anything other than the immediate humanitarian response to conflict.

When military planners advised of the need to consider the civilian component as an integral part of the UK's post-conflict deployment, the Government was not equipped to respond. Neither the FCO nor DFID took responsibility for the issue.

The shortage of expertise in reconstruction and stabilisation was a constraint on the planning process and on the contribution the UK was able to make to the administration and reconstruction of post-conflict Iraq.

The UK Government's post-invasion response to the shortage of deployable experts in stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction is addressed in Section 10.3.

Constraints on UK military capacity are addressed in Sections 6.1 and 6.2.

The UK contribution to the post-conflict humanitarian response is assessed in Section 10.1.

At no stage did Ministers or senior officials commission the systematic evaluation of different options, incorporating detailed analysis of risk and UK capabilities, military and civilian, which should have been required before the UK committed to any course of action in Iraq.

Where policy recommendations were supported by untested assumptions, those assumptions were seldom challenged. When they were, the issue was not always followed through.

It was the responsibility of officials to identify, analyse and advise on risk and Ministers' responsibility to ensure that measures to mitigate identifiable risks, including a range of policy options, had been considered before significant decisions were taken on the direction of UK policy.

Occasions when that would have been appropriate included:

  • after Mr Blair's meeting with Mr Hoon, Mr Straw and others on 23 July 2002;

  • after the adoption of resolution 1441;

  • before or immediately after the decision to deploy troops in January 2003;

  • after the Rock Drill (a US inter-agency rehearsal for post-conflict administration) in February 2003; and

  • after Mr Blair's meeting on post-conflict issues on 6 March 2003.

There is no indication of formal risk analysis or formal consideration of options associated with any of those events.

In his statement to the Inquiry, Mr Blair said:

"... with hindsight, we now see that the military campaign to defeat Saddam was relatively easy; it was the aftermath that was hard. At the time, of course, we could not know that and a prime focus throughout was the military campaign itself …"217

Notes (hide):

217: Statement Blair, 14 January 2011, page 14.

The conclusions reached by Mr Blair after the invasion did not require the benefit of hindsight.

Mr Blair's long-standing conviction that successful international intervention required long-term commitment had been clearly expressed in his Chicago speech in 1999.

That conviction was echoed, in the context of Iraq, in frequent advice to Mr Blair from Ministers and officials.

Between early 2002 and the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Mr Blair received warnings about:

  • the significance of the post-conflict phase as the "strategically decisive" phase of the engagement in Iraq (in the SPG paper of 13 December 2002218) and the risk that a badly handled aftermath would make intervention a "net failure" (in the letter from Mr Hoon's Private Office to Sir David Manning of 19 November 2002219);

  • the likelihood of internal conflict in Iraq (including from Mr Powell on 26 September 2002, who warned of the need to stop "a terrible bloodletting of revenge after Saddam goes. Traditional in Iraq after conflict"220);

  • the potential scale of the political, social, economic and security challenge (including from Sir Christopher Meyer (British Ambassador to the US) on 6 September 2002: "it will probably make pacifying Afghanistan look like child's play"221);

  • the need for an analysis of whether the benefits of military action outweighed the risk of a protracted and costly nation-building exercise (including from Mr Straw on 8 July 2002: the US "must also understand that we are serious about our conditions for UK involvement"222);

  • the absence of credible US plans for the immediate post-conflict period and the subsequent reconstruction of Iraq (including from the British Embassy Washington after the Rock Drill on 21 and 22 February 2003: "The inter-agency rehearsal for Phase IV … exposes the enormous scale of the task … Overall, planning is at a very rudimentary stage"223);

  • the need to agree with the US the nature of the UK contribution to those plans (including in the letter from Mr Hoon's Private Office to Sir David Manning on 28 February 2003: it was "absolutely clear" that the US expected the UK to take leadership of the South-East sector. The UK was "currently at risk of taking on a very substantial commitment that we will have great difficulty in sustaining beyond the immediate conclusion of conflict"224); and

  • the importance (including in the 'UK overall plan for Phase IV', shown to Mr Blair on 7 March 2003225) of:

  • UN authorisation for the military occupation of Iraq, without which therewould be no legal cover for certain post-conflict tasks;

  • a UN framework for the administration and reconstruction of Iraq during thetransition to Iraqi self-government.

Notes (hide):

218: Paper [SPG], 13 December 2002, 'UK Military Strategic Thinking on Iraq'.

219: Letter Watkins to Manning, 19 November 2002, 'Iraq: Military Planning after UNSCR 1441'.

220: Manuscript comment Powell to Manning on Letter McDonald to Manning, 26 September 2002, 'Scenarios for the future of Iraq after Saddam'.

221: Telegram 1140 Washington to FCO London, 6 September 2002, 'PM's visit to Camp David: Iraq'.

222: Letter Straw to Prime Minister, 8 July 2002, 'Iraq: Contingency Planning'.

223: Telegram 235 Washington to FCO London, 24 February 2003, 'Iraq: Day After: Rehearsal of Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance'.

224: Letter Williams to Manning, 28 February 2003, 'Iraq: Military Planning and Preparation' attaching Paper [unattributed], 28 February 2003, 'Iraq: Military Planning Update – 28 February 2003'.

225: Paper Iraq Planning Unit, 7 March 2003, 'The UK overall plan for Phase IV'.

Mr Blair told the Chiefs of Staff on 15 January 2003 that "the 'Issue' was aftermath – the Coalition must prevent anarchy and internecine fighting breaking out".226

In his evidence to the House of Commons Liaison Committee on 21 January 2003, Mr Blair emphasised the importance of the post-conflict phase:

"You do not engage in military conflict that may produce regime change unless you are prepared to follow through and work in the aftermath of that regime change to ensure the country is stable and the people are properly looked after."227

Notes (hide):

227: Liaison Committee, Session 2002-2003, Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Liaison Committee Tuesday 21 January 2003, Q 117.

On 24 January 2003, Mr Blair told President Bush that the biggest risk they faced was internecine fighting, and that delay would allow time for working up more coherent post-conflict plans.228

Notes (hide):

228: Letter Manning to Rice, 24 January 2003, [untitled] attaching 'Note'.

Yet when Mr Blair set out the UK's vision for the future of Iraq in the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, no assessment had been made of whether that vision was achievable, no agreement had been reached with the US on a workable post-conflict plan, UN authorisation had not yet been secured, and there had been no decision on the UN's role in post-conflict Iraq.

UK policy rested on the assumption that:

  • the US would provide effective leadership of the immediate post-conflict effort in Iraq;

  • the conditions would soon be in place for UK military withdrawal;

  • after a short period of US-led, UN-authorised military occupation, the UN would administer and provide a framework for the reconstruction of post-conflict Iraq;

  • substantial international support would follow UN authorisation; and

  • reconstruction and the political transition to Iraqi rule would proceed in a secure environment.

Mr Blair was already aware that those assumptions concealed significant risks:

  • UK officials assessed that the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), the US body that would assume responsibility for the immediate post-invasion administration of Iraq, was not up to the task.

  • Significant differences remained between UK and US positions on UN involvement, and between the UK and the UN.

  • International partners were scarce and thought to be unlikely to come forward in the absence of UN authorisation.

  • UK officials recognised that occupying forces would not remain welcome for long and threats to security could quickly escalate.

In the year before the invasion, Mr Blair:

  • stated his belief in the importance of post-conflict planning on several occasions, including in Cabinet, in Parliament and with President Bush;

  • requested advice on aspects of post-conflict Iraq (including for his summer reading pack in July 2002, for his meeting with President Bush on 31 January 2003, and twice in February 2003 after reading the JIC Assessment of southern Iraq and the Adelphi PaperIraq at the Crossroads);

  • at the meeting with Mr Hoon and the Chiefs of Staff on 15 January 2003, asked the MOD to consider the "big 'what ifs'" in the specific context of the UK military plan;

  • convened a Ministerial meeting on post-conflict issues on 6 March 2003;

  • raised concerns about the state of planning with President Bush; and

  • succeeded in the narrow goal of securing President Bush's agreement that the UN should be "heavily involved" in "the post-conflict situation", a loose formulation that appeared to bridge the gap between US and UK positions on UN authorisation and the post-conflict role of the UN, but did not address the substantive issues.

Mr Blair did not:

  • establish clear Ministerial oversight of post-conflict strategy, planning and preparation;

  • ensure that Ministers took the decisions needed to prepare a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan integrating UK military and civilian contributions;

  • seek adequate assurances that the UK was in a position to meet its likely obligations in Iraq;

  • insist that the UK's strategic objectives for Iraq were tested against anything other than the best case: a well-planned and executed US-led and UN-authorised post-conflict operation in a relatively benign security environment;

  • press President Bush for definitive assurances about US post-conflict plans or set out clearly to him the strategic risk in underestimating the post-conflict challenge and failing adequately to prepare for the task; or

  • consider, or seek advice on, whether the absence of a satisfactory plan was a sufficient threat to UK strategic objectives to require a reassessment of the terms of the UK engagement in Iraq. Despite concerns about the state of US planning, he did not make agreement on a satisfactory post-conflict plan a condition of UK participation in military action.

In the weeks immediately following the invasion, Mr Blair's omissions made it more difficult for the UK Government to take an informed decision on the establishment of the UK's post-conflict Area of Responsibility (AOR) in southern Iraq (addressed in more detail in Section 8).

In the short to medium term, his omissions increased the risk that the UK would be unable to respond to the unexpected in Iraq.

In the longer term, they reduced the likelihood of achieving the UK's strategic objectives in Iraq.


Next Section: The post-conflict period

Table of Contents


Notes:

201: Paper [SPG], 13 December 2002, 'UK Military Strategic Thinking on Iraq'.

202: Minute CDS to CJO, 18 March 2003, 'Op TELIC: Authorisation for Military Operations in Iraq' attaching Paper CDS, 'Chief of Defence Staff Execute Directive to the Joint Commander for Operation TELIC (Phases 3 and 4)'.

203: Minute Straw and Hoon to Prime Minister, 19 March 2003, 'Iraq: UK Military Contribution

204: Minute Ricketts to Private Secretary [FCO], 7 February 2003, 'Iraq Strategy'.

205: Paper Iraq Planning Unit, 25 March 2003, 'Iraq: Phase IV: Authorising UNSCR'.

206: House of Commons,Official Report, 19 March 2003, columns 931-932.

207: Telegram 501 UKMIS New York to FCO London, 21 March 2003, 'Iraq Humanitarian/Reconstruction: Clare Short's Visit to New York'.

208: Telegram 526 UKMIS New York to FCO London, 25 March 2003, 'Iraq Phase IV: UN Dynamics'.

209: Paper FCO, 25 March 2003, 'Iraq: Phase IV Issues'.

210: Minute Drummond to Rycroft, 19 March 2003, 'Iraq Ministerial Meeting'.

211: Minute Ricketts to Private Secretary [FCO], 7 February 2003, 'Iraq Strategy'.

212: Public hearing, 15 December 2009, page 5.

213: Paper Middle East Department, 12 December 2002, 'Interim Administrations in Iraq: Why a UN-led Interim Administration would be in the US interest'.

214: Minute Sec(O)4 to PS/Secretary of State [MOD], 6 March 2003, 'Iraq: Aftermath – Medium to Long Term UK Military Commitment'.

215: Minute Reith to COSSEC, 21 March 2003, 'Phase IV Planning – Taking Stock'.

216: Minute Dodds to Chancellor, 24 March 2003, 'Iraq: UK Military Contribution to Post-Conflict Iraq'.

217: Statement Blair, 14 January 2011, page 14.

218: Paper [SPG], 13 December 2002, 'UK Military Strategic Thinking on Iraq'.

219: Letter Watkins to Manning, 19 November 2002, 'Iraq: Military Planning after UNSCR 1441'.

220: Manuscript comment Powell to Manning on Letter McDonald to Manning, 26 September 2002, 'Scenarios for the future of Iraq after Saddam'.

221: Telegram 1140 Washington to FCO London, 6 September 2002, 'PM's visit to Camp David: Iraq'.

222: Letter Straw to Prime Minister, 8 July 2002, 'Iraq: Contingency Planning'.

223: Telegram 235 Washington to FCO London, 24 February 2003, 'Iraq: Day After: Rehearsal of Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance'.

224: Letter Williams to Manning, 28 February 2003, 'Iraq: Military Planning and Preparation' attaching Paper [unattributed], 28 February 2003, 'Iraq: Military Planning Update – 28 February 2003'.

225: Paper Iraq Planning Unit, 7 March 2003, 'The UK overall plan for Phase IV'.

226: Minute MA/DCJO to MA/CJO, 15 January 2003, 'Briefing to Prime Minister'.

227: Liaison Committee, Session 2002-2003, Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Liaison Committee Tuesday 21 January 2003, Q 117.

228: Letter Manning to Rice, 24 January 2003, [untitled] attaching 'Note'.