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Iraq War - secret memo leak - news 2 May 05

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,170-1594495,00.html

Leak shows ‘Blair set on Iraq war a year before invasion’

The Prime Minister, eager to focus on more positive aspects of his strategy in the final week of campaigning, cannot yet put Middle East conflict behind him

IT WAS alleged yesterday that Tony Blair had decided on war with Iraq nearly a year before the invasion, according to leaked Downing Street documents.

The leak revealed what appeared to be minuted war preparations at the highest level of government in July 2002, months before Mr Blair received parliamentary approval for military action.However, Admiral Sir Michael (now Lord) Boyce, Chief of the Defence Staff at the time, told The Times that no decision for war had been taken at that stage.

Military sources admitted that contingency planning for an invasion of Iraq had begun in May 2002, a month after Mr Blair returned from a meeting with President Bush in America about possible action against Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Military and intelligence officials said they were not given carte blanche to prepare for war until “much later in the year”.

Lord Boyce said: “It would have been irresponsible not to have started making contingency preparations, but it was all done on a what-if basis.We were not in any sense hell-bent on war. The main thing was the diplomatic effort.”

Lord Boyce spoke out after Downing Street minutes, marked “Secret and Strictly Personal — UK eyes only”, detailing a meeting about Saddam Hussein in July 2002, were leaked to The Sunday Times. The minutes referred to a meeting between Mr Blair and other key figures, including Lord Boyce, Sir Richard Dearlove, then chief of MI6, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Goldsmith QC, the Attorney-General, and Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary.

The minutes read: “This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. The paper should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know.”

At that stage, Mr Straw’s view was that the case for war was “thin”, and Lord Goldsmith was also giving warning of doubts about the legality of going to war. Mr Blair is recorded as having replied: “If the political context was right, people would support regime change.”

Mr Straw came up with a possible solution. “We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN inspectors hunting for weapons of mass destruction,” he said. If Saddam refused, Mr Straw argued, “this would help us with the legal justification for the use of force”.

In April 2002, Mr Straw told MPs that no decisions about military action were likely to be made “for some time”.

A leaked Foreign and Commonwealth Office briefing paper prepared for the July meeting made clear that Mr Blair told Mr Bush in April 2002 that Britain would support the US militarily to bring about Saddam’s downfall — although, on July 17, the Prime Minister told MPs: “No decisions have yet been made.”

A serving Whitehall official said it was wrong to suggest that final decisions had been taken in the early summer of 2002, even if the Prime Minister had offered to support the US. The official recalled that in 1998 America and Britain were “literally an hour away” from beginning airstrikes after Saddam refused to co-operate with UN inspectors. “But the bombing was called off after Saddam suddenly agreed to let the inspectors do their work.”

Lord Boyce backed up the official’s claim that final decisions had not been made until much later in 2002. “We were told we had to wait for the diplomatic process to be exhausted and that Blair hadn’t made up his mind,” he said.“The doubts about Britain’s involvement went right up till the evening of the vote in the House of Commons a few days before the invasion.”

US doubts about Britain’s participation remained so strong until the last moment that Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, declared that the US would go it alone if necessary.

THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE FACES

Downing Street memo of Prime Minister’s meeting on Iraq, July 23, 2002

  • Jack Straw: “It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran”

  • Conclusions of the Iraq meeting: “We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action . . . CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options”

    Tony Blair, July 16, 2002, replying to questions on preparing for military action against Iraq: “No, there are no decisions which have been taken about military action”

  • July 17, 2003, at Question Time: “However, we will make sure that whatever we do, as I say constantly no decisions have yet been taken, should be in accordance with international law”

  • July 24, Question Time: “As I have already said, we have not taken the decision to commit British forces”

  • July 25, press conference: “I actually think we are all getting a bit ahead of ourselves on the issue of Iraq. As I have said before, action is not imminent; we are not at the point of decision”

  • http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=634942
     

    Iraq war 'will haunt Blair's legacy like Suez'

    By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent

    02 May 2005

    Tony Blair was warned that his place in history will be "haunted" by Iraq, after fresh evidence emerged that he was secretly planning to join a US-led war against Saddam Hussein eight months before the invasion.

    Leaked Downing Street papers disclosed yesterday that the Prime Minister was privately contemplating "regime change" in Iraq in July 2002, while publicly insisting Saddam could avoid war if he complied with United Nations resolutions.

    The documents will bolster accusations by the war's opponents that Mr Blair agreed to support military intervention at a meeting with George Bush at the President's Texas ranch back in April 2002, a charge denied by the Government.

    In a further blow , the Chief of Defence Staff at the time of the war, Admiral Sir Michael (now Lord) Boyce, expressed his concerns the war might have been illegal.

    The disclosures - days after the leak of the Attorney General's private warning that the war could be unlawful - forced the Prime Minister on the defensive and he attempted to switch the focus of the election campaign to domestic issues. The papers leaked to The Sunday Times pertained to a meeting on 23 July 2002, chaired by Mr Blair, of his inner circle. Present were Lord Boyce, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, and John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

    According to the documents, marked "extremely sensitive", Sir Richard told the meeting that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around policy" by the US administration

    Mr Straw warned that the case for military action was "thin", adding that Saddam was not "threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran". Mr Straw suggested they should "work up" an ultimatum about weapons inspectors that would "help with the legal justification".

    The Prime Minister told the meeting: "If the political context were right, people would support regime change." He said the key issues were "whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan space to work".

    The minute of the meeting concluded: "We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action.

    The Liberal Democrats said the memo proved the Government had been bent on military action. Sir Menzies Campbell, the foreign affairs spokesman, said: "It's clear they agreed to illegal regime change with the Bush administration and deliberately set out to manufacture circumstances that would allow them to claim a justification to go to war."

    Charles Kennedy, the party leader, told a rally yesterday in Newbury, Berkshire: "Tony Blair's authority is seriously undermined by Iraq. Even if he wins a third term, he is now going to be a lame duck prime minister. Iraq will haunt his premiership and his legacy, just as Suez did for Sir Anthony Eden."

    Liam Fox, the Tory party co-chairman, said the leaks would keep trust on the agenda. "If people feel Tony Blair misled them on taxes, tuition fees and the Iraq war, then they can send him a message that failing to tell the truth will not be tolerated," he said.

    But Mr Blair told BBC1's Breakfast With Frost: "The idea that we had decided definitively for military action at that stage is wrong and disproved by the fact that, several months later, we went back to the United Nations to get a final resolution and actually the conflict didn't begin until four months after that."

    In a later radio interview, Mr Blair said the death of British soldiers was "a deeply heavy responsibility" but he could not apologise for taking the country to war. "If we had not done so the hundreds of thousands of people - we just had another mass grave in Iraq uncovered today - who died under Saddam would have carried on dying."

    Was it always about regime change?

    * "If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work."

    Tony Blair in leaked minutes to a July 2002 meeting with military and intelligence

    * "The ending of this regime would be the cause of regret for no one other than Saddam. But our purpose is disarmament. No one wants military conflict. Disarmament of all WMD is the demand."

    Blair at Commons debate, September 2002

    * "If Saddam Hussein co-operates, if he's serious about disarmament, then he can stay in power ... But if you do go to war it is not just a question of lives being lost. If it leads to the removal of a dictator who runs his country like a butcher's shop then lives will be saved as well."

    Blair's official spokesman, February 2003

    * "I must stress that the lawfulness of military action depends not only on the existence of a legal basis, but also on the question of proportionality... Regime change cannot be the objective of military action."

    Lord Goldsmith's advice to Blair in March 2003

     


    http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=634936
     

    Experts leave 'chicken' PM in a flap

    By Terry Kirby, Chief Reporter

    02 May 2005

    Tony Blair was accused of "chickening out" after he refused to take questions from a panel of experts during a live commercial radio broadcast yesterday.

    Labour officials insisted shortly before the programme went on air that, unlike Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy, the Prime Minister would only take listeners' questions.

    Under the format of the programme, broadcast to 200 commercial stations, the experts were to follow-up listeners' questions and provide context and analysis, asking questions themselves. At the insistence of Mr Blair's aides, they were instead ushered from the studio after questioning Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy.

    Mr Blair's move, coming after Thursday's BBC Question Time when he appeared under pressure, was seen as an attempt to avoid slip-ups in the last few days of campaigning. Claire Rayner, who was on the panel, rejected the official explanation - that there was confusion between the organisers and Mr Blair's office, saying: "I don't believe it. I think he chickened out. He didn't want an audience that was well-informed.'' Ms Rayner, a lifelong Labour supporter, has already said she will be voting Liberal Democrat.

    The organisers also maintained that the format had been agreed in advance with all three parties.

    A Labour spokesman said: "We wanted to spend the maximum amount of time talking to members of the public."