Executive Summary of the Iraq Inquiry

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Weapons of mass destruction

Iraq WMD assessments, pre-July 2002

The ingrained belief that Saddam Hussein's regime retained chemical and biological warfare capabilities, was determined to preserve and if possible enhance its capabilities, including at some point in the future a nuclear capability, and was pursuing an active policy of deception and concealment, had underpinned UK policy towards Iraq since the Gulf Conflict ended in 1991.

While the detail of individual JIC Assessments on Iraq varied, this core construct remained in place.

Security Council resolutions adopted since 1991 demanded Iraq's disarmament and the re-admission of inspectors, and imposed sanctions in the absence of Iraqi compliance with those – and other – obligations. Agreement to those resolutions indicated that doubts about whether Iraq had disarmed were widely shared.

In parallel, by 2000, the wider risk of proliferation was regarded as a major threat. There was heightened concern about:

  • the danger of proliferation, particularly that countries of concern might obtain nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles; and

  • the potential risk that terrorist groups which were willing to use them might gain access to chemical and biological agents and, possibly, nuclear material, and the means to deliver them.

These concerns were reinforced after 9/11.

The view conveyed in JIC Assessments between December 2000 and March 2002 was that, despite the considerable achievements of UNSCOM and the IAEA between 1991 and December 1998, including dismantling Iraq's nuclear programme, the inspectors had been unable to account for some of the ballistic missiles and chemical and biological weapons and material produced by Iraq; and that it had:

  • not totally destroyed all its stockpile of chemical and biological weapons;

  • retained up to 360 tonnes of chemical agents and precursor chemicals and growth media which would allow it to produce more chemical and biological agents;

  • hidden a small number of long-range Al Hussein ballistic missiles; and

  • retained the knowledge, documentation and personnel which would allow it to reconstitute its chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The JIC also judged that, since the departure of the weapons inspectors, Iraq:

  • was actively pursuing programmes to extend the range of its existing short-range ballistic missiles beyond the permitted range of 150km;

  • had begun development of a ballistic missile with a range greater than 1,000km;

  • was capable of resuming undetected production of "significant quantities" of chemical and biological agents, and in the case of VX (a nerve agent) might have already done so; and

  • was pursuing activities that could be linked to a nuclear programme.

Iraq's chemical, biological and ballistic missile programmes were seen as a threat to international peace and security in the Middle East region, but Iraq was viewed as a less serious proliferation threat than other key countries of concern – Iran, Libya and North Korea – which had current nuclear programmes. Iraq's nuclear facilities had been dismantled by the weapons inspectors. The JIC judged that Iraq would be unable to obtain a nuclear weapon while sanctions remained effective.

The JIC continued to judge that co-operation between Iraq and Al Qaida was "unlikely", and that there was no "credible evidence of Iraqi transfers of WMD-related technology and expertise to terrorist groups".

In mid-February 2002, in preparation for Mr Blair's planned meeting with President Bush in early April 2002, No.10 commissioned the preparation of a paper to inform the public about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and WMD more generally in four key countries of concern, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Iraq.

When the preparation of this document became public knowledge, it was perceived to be intended to underpin a decision on military action against Iraq. The content and timing became a sensitive issue.

Reflecting the UK position that action was needed to disarm Iraq, Mr Blair and Mr Straw began, from late February 2002, publicly to argue that Iraq was a threat which had to be dealt with; that Iraq needed to disarm or be disarmed in accordance with the obligations imposed by the UN; and that it was important to agree to the return of UN inspectors to Iraq.

The focus on Iraq was not the result of a step change in Iraq's capabilities or intentions.

When he saw the draft paper on WMD countries of concern on 8 March, Mr Straw commented:

"Good, but should not Iraq be first and also have more text? The paper has to show why there is an exceptional threat from Iraq. It does not quite do this yet."200

On 18 March, Mr Straw decided that a paper on Iraq should be issued before one addressing other countries of concern.

On 22 March, Mr Straw was advised that the evidence would not convince public opinion that there was an imminent threat from Iraq. Publication was postponed.

No.10 decided that the Cabinet Office Overseas and Defence Secretariat should co-ordinate the production of a "public dossier" on Iraq, and that Mr Campbell should "retain the lead role on the timing/form of its release".

The statements prepared for, and used by, the UK Government in public, from late 2001 onwards, about Iraq's proscribed activities and the potential threat they posed were understandably written in more direct and less nuanced language than the JIC Assessments on which they drew.

The question is whether, in doing so, they conveyed more certainty and knowledge than was justified, or created tests it would be impossible for Iraq to meet. That is of particular concern in relation to the evidence in Section 4.1 on two key issues.

First, the estimates of the weapons and material related to Iraq's chemical and biological warfare programmes for which UNSCOM had been unable to account were based on extrapolations from UNSCOM records. Officials explicitly advised that it was "inherently difficult to arrive at precise figures". In addition, it was acknowledged that neither UNSCOM nor the UK could be certain about either exactly what had existed or what Iraq had already destroyed.

The revised estimates announced by Mr Straw on 2 May were increasingly presented in Government statements as the benchmark against which Iraq should be judged.

Second, the expert MOD examination of issues in late March 2002 exposed the difficulties Iraq would have to overcome before it could acquire a nuclear weapon. That included the difficulty of acquiring suitable fissile material from the "black market".

In addition, the tendency to refer in public statements only to Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" without addressing their nature (the type of warhead and whether they were battlefield or strategic weapons systems) or how they might be used (as a last resort against invading military forces or as a weapon of terror to threaten civilian populations in other countries) was likely to have created the impression that Iraq posed a greater threat than the detailed JIC Assessments would have supported.

Iraq WMD assessments, July to September 2002

From late February 2002, the UK Government position was that Iraq was a threat that had to be dealt with; that Iraq needed to disarm in accordance with the obligations imposed by the UN; and that it was important to agree to the return of UN inspectors to Iraq.

The urgency and certainty with which the position was stated reflected both the ingrained beliefs already described and the wider context in which the policy was being discussed with the US.

But it also served to fuel the demand that the Government should publish the document it was known to have prepared, setting out the reasons why it was so concerned about Iraq.

In the spring and summer of 2002, senior officials and Ministers took the view that the Iraq dossier should not be published until the way ahead on the policy was clearer.

By late August 2002, the Government was troubled by intense speculation about whether a decision had already been taken to use military force. In Mr Blair's words, the US and UK had been "outed" as having taken a decision when no such decision had been taken.

Mr Blair's decision on 3 September to announce that the dossier would be published was a response to that pressure.

The dossier was designed to "make the case" and secure Parliamentary (and public) support for the Government's position that action was urgently required to secure Iraq's disarmament.

The UK Government intended the information and judgements in the Iraq dossier to be seen to be the product of the JIC in order to carry authority with Parliament and the public.

The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) was commissioned by No.10 on 5 September to examine whether it had any additional material which could be included.

Mr Scarlett, as Chairman of the JIC, was given the responsibility of producing the dossier.

The dossier drew on the 9 September JIC Assessment, 'Iraqi Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons – Possible Scenarios', which had been commissioned to address scenarios for Iraq's possible use of chemical and biological weapons in the event of military action, previous JIC Assessments and the subsequent report issued by SIS on 11 September.

The SIS report should have been shown to the relevant experts in the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) who could have advised their senior managers and the Assessments Staff.

Expert officials in DIS questioned the certainty with which some of the judgements in the dossier were expressed. Some of their questions were discussed during the preparation of the dossier. The text was agreed by Air Marshal Joe French, Chief of Defence Intelligence, at the JIC meeting on 19 September.

There is no evidence that other members of the JIC were aware at the time of the reservations recorded in the minute by Dr Brian Jones (the branch head of the nuclear, biological and chemical section in the Scientific and Technical Directorate of the Defence Intelligence Staff) of 19 September and that written by the chemical weapons expert in his team the following day.

The JIC accepted ownership of the dossier and agreed its content. There is no evidence that intelligence was improperly included in the dossier or that No.10 improperly influenced the text.

At issue are the judgements made by the JIC and how they and the intelligence were presented, including in Mr Blair's Foreword and in his statement to Parliament on 24 September 2002.

It is unlikely that Parliament and the public would have distinguished between the ownership and therefore the authority of the judgements in the Foreword and those in the Executive Summary and the main body of the dossier.

In the Foreword, Mr Blair stated that he believed the "assessed intelligence" had "established beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein had "continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he had been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme". That raises two key questions.

  • Did Mr Blair's statements in whole or in part go further than the assessed intelligence?

  • Did that matter?

The Inquiry is not questioning Mr Blair's belief, which he consistently reiterated in his evidence to the Inquiry, or his legitimate role in advocating Government policy.

But the deliberate selection of a formulation which grounded the statement in what Mr Blair believed, rather than in the judgements which the JIC had actually reached in its assessment of the intelligence, indicates a distinction between his beliefs and the JIC's actual judgements.

That is supported by the position taken by the JIC and No.10 officials at the time, and in the evidence offered to the Inquiry by some of those involved.

The assessed intelligence had not established beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons. The Executive Summary of the dossier stated that the JIC judged that Iraq had "continued to produce chemical and biological agents". The main text of the dossier said that there had been "recent" production. It also stated that Iraq had the means to deliver chemical and biological weapons. It did not say that Iraq had continued to produce weapons.

Nor had the assessed intelligence established beyond doubt that efforts to develop nuclear weapons continued. The JIC stated in the Executive Summary of the dossier that Iraq had:

  • made covert attempts "to acquire technology and materials which could be used in the production of nuclear weapons";

  • "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active nuclear programme that would require it"; and

  • "recalled specialists to work on its nuclear programme".

But the dossier made clear that, as long as sanctions remained effective, Iraq could not produce a nuclear weapon.

These conclusions draw on the evidence from the JIC Assessments at the time and the Executive Summary of the dossier, which are set out in Section 4.2. They do not rely on hindsight.

The JIC itself should have made that position clear because its ownership of the dossier, which was intended to inform a highly controversial policy debate, carried with it the responsibility to ensure that the JIC's integrity was protected.

The process of seeking the JIC's views, through Mr Scarlett, on the text of the Foreword shows that No.10 expected the JIC to raise any concerns it had.

The firmness of Mr Blair's beliefs, despite the underlying uncertainties, is important in considering how the judgements in the Foreword would have been interpreted by Cabinet in its discussions on 23 September and by Parliament.

In his statement to Parliament on 24 September and in his answers to subsequent questions, Mr Blair presented Iraq's past, current and potential future capabilities as evidence of the severity of the potential threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; and that, at some point in the future, that threat would become a reality.

By the time the dossier was published, President Bush had announced that the US was seeking action on Iraq through the UN, and Iraq had agreed to the return of inspectors.

Rather than the debate being framed in terms of the answers needed to the outstanding questions identified by UNSCOM and the IAEA, including the material for which UNSCOM had been unable to account, the dossier's description of Iraq's capabilities and intent became part of the baseline against which the UK Government measured Iraq's future statements and actions and the success of weapons inspections.

As Section 4.3 demonstrates, the judgements remained in place without challenge until the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Iraq's denials of the capabilities and intent attributed to it were not taken seriously.

As the flaws in the construct and the intelligence were exposed after the conflict, the dossier and subsequent statements to Parliament also became the baseline against which the Government's good faith and credibility were judged.

Iraq WMD assessments, October 2002 to March 2003

From October 2002 onwards, the JIC focused on two main themes:

  • Iraq's attitude to the return of the inspectors and, from 8 November, its compliance with the specific obligations imposed by resolution 1441; and

  • Iraq's options, diplomatic and military, including the possible use of chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles against Coalition Forces or countries in the region in either pre-emptive attacks or in response to a military attack.

In its Assessment of 18 December, the JIC made the judgements in the UK Government September dossier part of the test for Iraq.

The judgements about Iraq's capabilities and intentions relied heavily on Iraq's past behaviour being a reliable indicator of its current and future actions.

There was no consideration of whether, faced with the prospect of a US-led invasion, Saddam Hussein had taken a different position.

The absence of evidence of proscribed programmes and materials relating to the production or delivery of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons was attributed to Iraq's ability to conceal its activities and deceive the inspectors and the difficulties which it had been anticipated the inspectors would encounter.

The JIC Assessment of 11 October 2002 stated that a good intelligence flow from inside Iraq, supporting tougher inspections, would be "central to success".

A key element of the Assessments was the reporting and intelligence on Iraq's intentions to conceal its activities, deceive the inspectors and obstruct the conduct of inspections, particularly Iraq's attitudes to preventing interviews with officials who were identified as associated with its proscribed programmes or who had been involved in Iraq's unilateral destruction of its weapons and facilities.

The large number of intelligence reports about Iraq's activities were interpreted from the perspective that Iraq's objectives were to conceal its programmes.

Similarly, Iraq's actions were consistently interpreted as indicative of deceit.

From early 2003, the Government drew heavily on the intelligence reporting of Iraq's activities to deceive and obstruct the inspectors to illustrate its conclusion that Iraq had no intention of complying with the obligations imposed in resolution 1441.

The Government also emphasised the reliability of the reporting.

The JIC's judgement from August 2002 until 19 March 2003 remained that Iraq might use chemical and biological weapons in response to a military attack.

Iraq's statements that it had no weapons or programmes were dismissed as further evidence of a strategy of denial.

In addition, the extent to which the JIC's judgements depended on inference and interpretation of Iraq's previous attitudes and behaviour was not recognised.

At no stage was the hypothesis that Iraq might not have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programmes identified and examined by either the JIC or the policy community.

After its 9 September 2002 Assessment, the JIC was not asked to review its judgements on Iraq's capabilities and programmes which underpinned UK thinking. Nor did the JIC itself suggest such a review.

As a result there was no formal reassessment of the JIC judgements, and the 9 September Assessment and the 24 September dossier provided part of the baseline for the UK Government's view of Iraq's capabilities and intentions on its chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Given the weight which rested on the JIC's judgements about Iraq's possession of WMD and its future intent for the decision in March that military action should, if necessary, be taken to disarm Iraq, a formal reassessment of the JIC's judgements should have taken place.

This might have been prompted by Dr Blix's report to the Security Council on 14 February 2003, which demonstrated the developing divergence between the assessments presented by the US and UK. Dr Blix's report of 7 March, which changed the view that Iraqi behaviour was preventing UNMOVIC from carrying out its tasks, should certainly have prompted a review.

The search for WMD

Section 4.4 considers the impact of the failure to find stockpiles of WMD in Iraq in the months immediately after the invasion, and of the emerging conclusions of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), on:

  • the Government's response to demands for an independent judge-led inquiry into pre-conflict intelligence on Iraq; and

  • the Government's public presentation of the nature of the threat from Saddam Hussein's regime and the decision to go to war.

The Inquiry has not sought to comment in detail on the specific conclusions of the ISC, FAC, Hutton and Butler Reports, all of which were published before the withdrawal by SIS in September 2004 of a significant proportion of the intelligence underpinning the JIC Assessments and September 2002 dossier on which UK policy had rested.

In addition to the conclusions of those reports, the Inquiry notes the forthright statement in March 2005 of the US Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Reporting to President Bush, the Commission stated that "the [US] Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure."

The evidence in Section 4.4 shows that, after the invasion, the UK Government, including the intelligence community, was reluctant to admit, and to recognise publicly, the mounting evidence that there had been failings in the UK's pre-conflict collection, validation, analysis and presentation of intelligence on Iraq's WMD.

Despite the failure to identify any evidence of WMD programmes during pre-conflict inspections, the UK Government remained confident that evidence would be found after the Iraqi regime had been removed.

Almost immediately after the start of the invasion, UK Ministers and officials sought to lower public expectations of immediate or significant finds of WMD in Iraq.

The lack of evidence to support pre-conflict claims about Iraq's WMD challenged the credibility of the Government and the intelligence community, and the legitimacy of the war.

The Government and the intelligence community were both concerned about the consequences of the presentational aspects of their pre-war assessments being discredited.

By June, the Government had acknowledged the need for a review of the UK's pre-conflict intelligence on Iraq. It responded to demands for an independent, judge-led inquiry by expressing support for the reviews initiated by the ISC and the FAC.

The announcement of the Hutton Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly on 18 July, reinforced the Government's position that additional reviews were not needed.

The Government maintained that position until January 2004, backed by three votes in the House of Commons (on 4 June, 15 July and 22 October 2003) rejecting a succession of Opposition motions calling for an independent inquiry into the use of pre-war intelligence.

Mr Blair's initial response to growing criticism of the failure to find WMD was to counsel patience.

After the publication of the ISG Interim Report, the Government's focus shifted from finding stockpiles of weapons to emphasising evidence of the Iraqi regime's strategic intent.

Once President Bush made clear his decision to set up an independent inquiry, Mr Blair's resistance to a public inquiry became untenable.

After the announcement of the Butler Review, the UK Government's focus shifted to the content of the next ISG report, the Status Report.

The Government, still concerned about the nature of the public debate on WMD in the UK, sought to ensure that the Status Report included existing ISG material highlighting the strategic intentions of Saddam Hussein's regime and breaches of Security Council resolutions.

Mr Blair remained concerned about continuing public and Parliamentary criticism of the pre-conflict intelligence, the failure to find WMD and the decision to invade Iraq. After the reports from the Hutton Inquiry, the ISG and the US Commission, he sought to demonstrate that, although "the exact basis for action was not as we thought", the invasion had still been justified.

The ISG's findings were significant, but did not support past statements by the UK and US Governments, which had focused on Iraq's current capabilities and an urgent and growing threat.

The explanation for military action put forward by Mr Blair in October 2004 was not the one given before the conflict.

Next Section: Planning for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq

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