Executive Summary of the Iraq Inquiry


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Why Iraq? Why now?


In his memoir, Mr Blair described his speech opening the debate on 18 March as "the most important speech I had ever made".143

Notes (hide):

143: Blair T.A Journey. Hutchinson, 2010.

Mr Blair framed the decision for the House of Commons as a "tough" and "stark" choice between "retreat" and holding firm to the course of action the Government had set. Mr Blair stated that he believed "passionately" in the latter. He deployed a wide range of arguments to explain the grounds for military action and to make a persuasive case for the Government's policy.144

Notes (hide):

144: House of Commons,Official Report, 18 March 2003, columns 760-774.

In setting out his position, Mr Blair recognised the gravity of the debate and the strength of opposition in both the country and Parliament to immediate military action. In his view, the issue mattered "so much" because the outcome would not just determine the fate of the Iraqi regime and the Iraqi people but would:

"... determine the way in which Britain and the world confront the central security threat of the 21st century, the development of the United Nations, the relationship between Europe and the United States, the relations within the European Union and the way in which the United States engages with the rest of the world. So it could hardly be more important. It will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation."

Was Iraq a serious or imminent threat?

On 18 March 2003, the House of Commons was asked:

  • to recognise that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and its continuing non-compliance with Security Council resolutions, posed a threat to international peace and security; and

  • to support the use of all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, on the basis that the United Kingdom must uphold the authority of the United Nations as set out in resolution 1441 and many resolutions preceding it.

In his statement, Mr Blair addressed both the threat to international peace and security presented by Iraq's defiance of the UN and its failure to comply with its disarmament obligations as set out in resolution 1441 (2002). Iraq was "the test of whether we treat the threat seriously".

Mr Blair rehearsed the Government's position on Iraq's past pursuit and use of weapons of mass destruction; its failures to comply with the obligations imposed by the UN Security Council between 1991 and 1998; Iraq's repeated declarations which proved to be false; and the "large quantities of weapons of mass destruction" which were "unaccounted for". He described UNSCOM's final report (in January 1999) as "a withering indictment of Saddam's lies, deception and obstruction".

Mr Blair cited the UNMOVIC "clusters" document issued on 7 March as "a remarkable document", detailing "all the unanswered questions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction", listing "29 different areas in which the inspectors have been unable to obtain information".

He stated that, based on Iraq's false declaration, its failure to co-operate, the unanswered questions in the UNMOVIC "clusters" document, and the unaccounted for material, the Security Council should have convened and condemned Iraq as in material breach of its obligations. If Saddam Hussein continued to fail to co-operate, force should be used.

Addressing the wider message from the issue of Iraq, Mr Blair asked:

"... what ... would any tyrannical regime possessing weapons of mass destruction think when viewing the history of the world's diplomatic dance with Saddam over ... 12 years? That our capacity to pass firm resolutions has only been matched by our feebleness in implementing them."

Mr Blair acknowledged that Iraq was "not the only country with weapons of mass destruction", but declared: "back away from this confrontation now, and future conflicts will be infinitely worse and more devastating in their effects".

Mr Blair added:

"The real problem is that ... people dispute Iraq is a threat, dispute the link between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and dispute in other words, the whole basis of our assertion that the two together constitute a fundamental assault on our way of life."

Mr Blair also described a "threat of chaos and disorder" arising from "tyrannical regimes with weapons of mass destruction and extreme terrorist groups" prepared to use them.

Mr Blair set out his concerns about:

  • proliferators of nuclear equipment or expertise;

  • "dictatorships with highly repressive regimes" who were "desperately trying to acquire" chemical, biological or, "particularly, nuclear weapons capability" – some of those were "a short time away from having a serviceable nuclear weapon", and that activity was increasing, not diminishing; and

  • the possibility of terrorist groups obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction, including a "radiological bomb".

Those two threats had very different motives and different origins. He accepted "fully" that the association between the two was:

"... loose – but it is hardening. The possibility of the two coming together – of terrorist groups in possession of weapons of mass destruction or even of a so called dirty radiological bomb – is now in my judgement, a real and present danger to Britain and its national security."

Later in his speech, Mr Blair stated that the threat which Saddam Hussein's arsenal posed:

"... to British citizens at home and abroad cannot simply be contained. Whether in the hands of his regime or in the hands of the terrorists to whom he would give his weapons, they pose a clear danger to British citizens ..."

This fusion of long-standing concerns about proliferation with the post-9/11 concerns about mass-casualty terrorism was at the heart of the Government's case for taking action at this time against Iraq.

The UK assessment of Iraq's capabilities set out in Section 4 of the Report shows:

  • The proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their delivery systems, particularly ballistic missiles, was regarded as a major threat. But Iran, North Korea and Libya were of greater concern than Iraq in terms of the risk of nuclear and missile proliferation.

  • JIC Assessments, reflected in the September 2002 dossier, had consistently taken the view that, if sanctions were removed or became ineffective, it would take Iraq at least five years following the end of sanctions to produce enough fissile material for a weapon. On 7 March, the IAEA had reported to the Security Council that there was no indication that Iraq had resumed its nuclear activities.

  • The September dossier stated that Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon within one to two years if it obtained fissile material and other essential components from a foreign supplier. There was no evidence that Iraq had tried to acquire fissile material and other components or – were it able to do so – that it had the technical capabilities to turn these materials into a usable weapon.

  • JIC Assessments had identified the possible stocks of chemical and biological weapons which would largely have been for short-range, battlefield use by the Iraqi armed forces. The JIC had also judged in the September dossier that Iraq was producing chemical and biological agents and that there were development programmes for longer-range missiles capable of delivering them.

  • Iraq's proscribed Al Samoud 2 missiles were being destroyed.

The UK Government did have significant concerns about the potential risks of all types of weapons of mass destruction being obtained by Islamist extremists (in particular Al Qaida) who would be prepared to use such weapons.

Saddam Hussein's regime had the potential to proliferate material and know-how, to terrorist groups, but it was not judged likely to do so.

On 28 November 2001, the JIC assessed that:

  • Saddam Hussein had "refused to permit any Al Qaida presence in Iraq".

  • Evidence of contact between Iraq and Usama Bin Laden (UBL) was "fragmentary and uncorroborated"; including that Iraq had been in contact with Al Qaida for exploratory discussions on toxic materials in late 1988.

  • "With common enemies ... there was clearly scope for collaboration."

  • There was "no evidence that these contacts led to practical co-operation; we judge it unlikely ... There is no evidence UBL's organisation has ever had a presence in Iraq."

  • Practical co-operation between Iraq and Al Qaida was "unlikely because of mutual mistrust".

  • There was "no credible evidence of covert transfers of WMD-related technology and expertise to terrorist groups".145

On 29 January 2003, the JIC assessed that, despite the presence of terrorists in Iraq "with links to Al Qaida", there was "no intelligence of current co-operation between Iraq and Al Qaida".146

On 10 February 2003, the JIC judged that Al Qaida would "not carry out attacks under Iraqi direction".147

Sir Richard Dearlove told the Inquiry:

"... I don't think the Prime Minister ever accepted the link between Iraq and terrorism. I think it would be fair to say that the Prime Minister was very worried about the possible conjunction of terrorism and WMD, but not specifically in relation to Iraq ... [I] think, one could say this is one of his primary national security concerns given the nature of Al Qaida."148

Notes (hide):

148: Private hearing, 16 June 2010, pages 39-40.

The JIC assessed that Iraq was likely to mount a terrorist attack only in response to military action and if the existence of the regime was threatened.

The JIC Assessment of 10 October 2002 stated that Saddam Hussein's "overriding objective" was to "avoid a US attack that would threaten his regime".149 The JIC judged that, in the event of US-led military action against Iraq, Saddam would:

"... aim to use terrorism or the threat of it. Fearing the US response, he is likely to weigh the costs and benefits carefully in deciding the timing and circumstances in which terrorism is used. But intelligence on Iraq's capabilities and intentions in this field is limited."

The JIC also judged that:

  • Saddam's "capability to conduct effective terrorist attacks" was "very limited".

  • Iraq's "terrorism capability" was "inadequate to carry out chemical or biological attacks beyond individual assassination attempts using poisons".

The JIC Assessment of 29 January 2003 sustained its earlier judgements on Iraq's ability and intent to conduct terrorist operations.150

Sir David Omand, the Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office from 2002 to 2005, told the Inquiry that, in March 2002, the Security Service judged that the "threat from terrorism from Saddam's own intelligence apparatus in the event of an intervention in Iraq ... was judged to be limited and containable".151

Notes (hide):

151: Public hearing, 20 January 2010, page 37.

Baroness Manningham-Buller, the Director General of the Security Service from 2002 to 2007, confirmed that position, stating that the Security Service felt there was "a pretty good intelligence picture of a threat from Iraq within the UK and to British interests".152

Notes (hide):

152: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 6.

Baroness Manningham-Buller added that subsequent events showed the judgement that Saddam Hussein did not have the capability to do anything much in the UK, had "turned out to be the right judgement".153

Notes (hide):

153: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 9.

While it was reasonable for the Government to be concerned about the fusion of proliferation and terrorism, there was no basis in the JIC Assessments to suggest that Iraq itself represented such a threat.

The UK Government assessed that Iraq had failed to comply with a series of UN resolutions. Instead of disarming as these resolutions had demanded, Iraq was assessed to have concealed materials from past inspections and to have taken the opportunity of the absence of inspections to revive its WMD programmes.

In Section 4, the Inquiry has identified the importance of the ingrained belief of the Government and the intelligence community 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 and successful policy of deception and concealment.

This construct remained influential despite the lack of significant finds by inspectors in the period leading up to military action in March 2003, and even after the Occupation of Iraq.

Challenging Saddam Hussein's "claim" that he had no weapons of mass destruction, Mr Blair said in his speech on 18 March:

  • "... we are asked to believe that after seven years of obstruction and non-compliance ... he [Saddam Hussein] voluntarily decided to do what he had consistently refused to do under coercion."

  • "We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years – contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence – Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd."

  • "... Iraq continues to deny that it has any weapons of mass destruction, although no serious intelligence service anywhere in the world believes it."

  • "What is perfectly clear is that Saddam is playing the same old games in the same old way. Yes, there are minor concessions, but there has been no fundamental change of heart or mind."154

Notes (hide):

154: House of Commons,Official Report, 18 March 2003, columns 760-764.

At no stage was the proposition that Iraq might no longer have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programmes identified and examined by either the JIC or the policy community.

Intelligence and assessments were used to prepare material to be used to support Government statements in a way which conveyed certainty without acknowledging the limitations of the intelligence.

Mr Blair's statement to the House of Commons on 18 March was the culmination of a series of public statements and interviews setting out the urgent need for the international community to act to bring about Iraq's disarmament in accordance with those resolutions, dating back to February 2002, before his meeting with President Bush at Crawford on 5 and 6 April.

As Mr Cook's resignation statement on 17 March made clear, it was possible for a Minister to draw different conclusions from the same information.

Mr Cook set out his doubts about Saddam Hussein's ability to deliver a strategic attack and the degree to which Iraq posed a "clear and present danger" to the UK. The points Mr Cook made included:

  • "... neither the international community nor the British public is persuaded that there is an urgent and compelling reason for this military action in Iraq."

  • "Over the past decade that strategy [of containment] had destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf War, dismantled Iraq's nuclear weapons programme and halted Saddam's medium and long range missile programmes."

  • "Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term – namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target. It probably ... has biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s when US companies sold Saddam anthrax agents and the then British Government approved chemical and munitions factories. Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for twenty years, and which we helped to create? Why is it necessary to resort to war this week, while Saddam's ambition to complete his weapons programme is blocked by the presence of UN inspectors?"155

Notes (hide):

155: House of Commons,Official Report, 17 March 2003, columns 726-728.

On 12 October 2004, announcing the withdrawal of two lines of intelligence reporting which had contributed to the pre-conflict judgements on mobile biological production facilities and the regime's intentions, Mr Straw stated that he did:

"... not accept, even with hindsight, that we were wrong to act as we did in the circumstances that we faced at the time. Even after reading all the evidence detailed by the Iraq Survey Group, it is still hard to believe that any regime could behave in so self-destructive a manner as to pretend that it had forbidden weaponry, when in fact it had not."156

Notes (hide):

156: House of Commons,Official Report, 12 October 2004, columns 151-152.

Iraq had acted suspiciously over many years, which led to the inferences drawn by the Government and the intelligence community that it had been seeking to protect concealed WMD assets. When Iraq denied that it had retained any WMD capabilities, the UK Government accused it of lying.

This led the Government to emphasise the ability of Iraq successfully to deceive the inspectors, and cast doubt on the investigative capacity of the inspectors. The role of the inspectors, however, as was often pointed out, was not to seek out assets that had been hidden, but rather to validate Iraqi claims.

By March 2003, however:

  • The Al Samoud 2 missiles which exceeded the range permitted by the UN, were being destroyed.

  • The IAEA had concluded that there was no Iraqi nuclear programme of any significance.

  • The inspectors believed that they were making progress and expected to achieve more co-operation from Iraq.

  • The inspectors were preparing to step up their activities with U2 flights and interviews outside Iraq.

When the UK sought a further Security Council resolution in March 2003, the majority of the Council's members were not persuaded that the inspections process, and the diplomatic efforts surrounding it, had reached the end of the road. They did not agree that the time had come to terminate inspections and resort to force. The UK went to war without the explicit authorisation which it had sought from the Security Council.

At the time of the Parliamentary vote of 18 March, diplomatic options had not been exhausted. The point had not been reached where military action was the last resort.

The predicted increase in the threat to the UK as a result of military action in Iraq

Mr Blair had been advised that an invasion of Iraq was expected to increase the threat to the UK and UK interests from Al Qaida and its affiliates.

Asked about the risk that attacking Iraq with cruise missiles would "act as a recruiting sergeant for a young generation throughout the Islamic and Arab world", Mr Blair responded that:

"... what was shocking about 11 September was not just the slaughter of innocent people but the knowledge that, had the terrorists been able, there would have been not 3,000 innocent dead, but 30,000 or 300,000 ... America did not attack the Al Qaida terrorist group ... [it] attacked America. They did not need to be recruited ... Unless we take action against them, they will grow. That is why we should act."157

Notes (hide):

157: House of Commons, Official Report, 18 March 2003, column 769.

The JIC judged in October 2002 that "the greatest terrorist threat in the event of military action against Iraq will come from Al Qaida and other Islamic extremists"; and they would be "pursuing their own agenda".158

The JIC Assessment of 10 February 2003 repeated previous warnings that:

  • Al Qaida and associated networks would remain the greatest terrorist threat to the UK and its activity would increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq.

  • In the event of imminent regime collapse, Iraqi chemical and biological material could be transferred to terrorists, including Al Qaida.159

Addressing the prospects for the future, the JIC Assessment concluded:

"... Al Qaida and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq.The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-US/anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West. And there is a risk that the transfer of CB [chemical and biological] material or expertise, during or in the aftermath of conflict, will enhance Al Qaida's capabilities."

In response to a call for Muslims everywhere to take up arms in defence of Iraq issued by Usama Bin Laden on 11 February, and a further call on 16 February for "compulsory jihad" by Muslims against the West, the JIC Assessment on 19 February predicted that the upward trend in the reports of threats to the UK was likely to continue.160

The JIC continued to warn in March that the threat from Al Qaida would increase at the onset of military action against Iraq.161

The JIC also warned that:

  • Al Qaida activity in northern Iraq continued.

  • Al Qaida might have established sleeper cells in Baghdad, to be activated during a US occupation.

The warning about the risk of chemical and biological weapons becoming available to extremist groups as a result of military action in Iraq was reiterated on 19 March.162

Addressing the JIC Assessment of 10 February 2003, Mr Blair told the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) later that year that:

"One of the most difficult aspects of this is that there was obviously a danger that in attacking Iraq you ended up provoking the very thing you were trying to avoid. On the other hand I think you had to ask the question, 'Could you really, as a result of that fear, leave the possibility that in time developed into a nexus between terrorism and WMD in an event?' This is where you've just got to make your judgement about this. But this is my judgement and it remains my judgement and I suppose time will tell whether it's true or it's not true."163

Notes (hide):

163: Intelligence and Security Committee, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments, September 2003, Cm5972, paragraph 128.

In its response to the ISC Report, the Government drew:

"... attention to the difficult judgement that had to be made and the factors on both sides of the argument to be taken into account."164

Notes (hide):

164: Government Response to the Intelligence and Security Committee Report on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments,11 September 2003, February 2004, Cm6118, paragraph 22.

Baroness Manningham-Buller told the Inquiry:

"By 2003/2004 we were receiving an increasing number of leads to terrorist activity from within the UK ... our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word ... a few among a generation ... [who] saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam."165

Notes (hide):

165: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 19.

Asked about the proposition that it was right to remove Saddam Hussein's regime to forestall a fusion of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism at some point in the future, and if it had eliminated a threat of terrorism from his regime, Baroness Manningham-Buller replied:

"It eliminated the threat of terrorism from his direct regime; it didn't eliminate the threat of terrorism using unconventional methods ... So using weapons of mass destruction as a terrorist weapon is still a potential threat. "After all Usama Bin Laden said it was the duty of members of his organisation or those in sympathy with it to acquire and use these weapons. It is interesting that ... such efforts as we have seen to get access to these sort of materials have been low-grade and not very professional, but it must be a cause of concern to my former colleagues that at some stage terrorist groups will resort to these methods. In that respect, I don't think toppling Saddam Hussein is germane to the long-term ambitions of some terrorist groups to use them."166

Notes (hide):

166: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, pages 23-24.

Asked specifically about the theory that at some point in the future Saddam Hussein would probably have brought together international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in a threat to Western interests, Baroness Manningham-Buller responded:

"It is a hypothetical theory. It certainly wasn't of concern in either the short-term or the medium-term to my colleagues and myself."167

Notes (hide):

167: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 24.

Asked if "a war in Iraq would aggravate the threat from whatever source to the United Kingdom", Baroness Manningham-Buller stated that that was the view communicated by the JIC Assessments.168

Notes (hide):

168: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 31.

Baroness Manningham-Buller subsequently added that if Ministers had read the JIC Assessments they could "have had no doubt" about that risk.169 She said that by the time of the July 2005 attacks in London:

Notes (hide):

169: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 33.

"... an increasing number of British-born individuals ... were attracted to the ideology of Usama Bin Laden and saw the West's activities in Iraq and Afghanistan as threatening their fellow religionists and the Muslim world."

Asked whether the judgement that the effect of the invasion of Iraq had increased the terrorist threat to the UK was based on hard evidence or a broader assessment, Baroness Manningham-Buller replied:

"I think we can produce evidence because of the numerical evidence of the number of plots, the number of leads, the number of people identified, and the correlation of that to Iraq and statements of people as to why they were involved ... So I think the answer to your ... question: yes."170

Notes (hide):

170: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, pages 33-34.

In its request for a statement, the Inquiry asked Mr Blair if he had read the JIC Assessment of 10 February 2002, and what weight he had given to it when he decided to take military action.171

Notes (hide):

171: Inquiry request for a witness statement, 13 December 2010, Qs 11c and 11d page 7.

In his statement Mr Blair wrote:

"I was aware of the JIC Assessment of 10 February that the Al Qaida threat to the UK would increase. But I took the view then and take the same view now that to have backed down because of the threat of terrorism would be completely wrong. In any event, following 9/11 and Afghanistan we were a terrorist target and, as recent events in Europe and the US show, irrespective of Iraq, there are ample justifications such terrorists will use as excuses for terrorism."172

Notes (hide):

172: Statement, 14 January 2011, page 16.


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Notes:

143: Blair T.A Journey. Hutchinson, 2010.

144: House of Commons,Official Report, 18 March 2003, columns 760-774.

145: JIC Assessment, 28 November 2001, 'Iraq after September 11 – The Terrorist Threat'.

146: JIC Assessment, 29 January 2003, 'Iraq: The Emerging view from Baghdad'.

147: JIC Assessment, 10 February 2003, 'International Terrorism: War with Iraq'

148: Private hearing, 16 June 2010, pages 39-40.

149: JIC Assessment, 10 October 2002, 'International Terrorism: The Threat from Iraq'.

150: JIC Assessment, 29 January 2003, 'Iraq: The Emerging view from Baghdad'.

151: Public hearing, 20 January 2010, page 37.

152: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 6.

153: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 9.

154: House of Commons,Official Report, 18 March 2003, columns 760-764.

155: House of Commons,Official Report, 17 March 2003, columns 726-728.

156: House of Commons,Official Report, 12 October 2004, columns 151-152.

157: House of Commons, Official Report, 18 March 2003, column 769.

158: JIC Assessment, 10 October 2002, 'International Terrorism: The Threat from Iraq'.

159: JIC Assessment, 10 February 2003, 'International Terrorism: War with Iraq'.

160: JIC Assessment, 19 February 2003, 'International Terrorism: The Current Threat from Islamic Extremists'.

161: JIC Assessment, 12 March 2003, 'International Terrorism: War with Iraq: Update'.

162: Note JIC, 19 March 2003, 'Saddam: The Beginning of the End'.

163: Intelligence and Security Committee, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments, September 2003, Cm5972, paragraph 128.

164: Government Response to the Intelligence and Security Committee Report on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments,11 September 2003, February 2004, Cm6118, paragraph 22.

165: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 19.

166: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, pages 23-24.

167: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 24.

168: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 31.

169: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, page 33.

170: Public hearing, 20 July 2010, pages 33-34.

171: Inquiry request for a witness statement, 13 December 2010, Qs 11c and 11d page 7.

172: Statement, 14 January 2011, page 16.