MI6 made secret plan for anti-Saddam coup in December 2001


MI6 drew up proposals to support a coup against Saddam Hussein three months after the terrorist attacks on 11 September in the United States, previously classified documents indicate.

The papers outline a proposal for regime change in Iraq backed up by airstrikes. The files were read by the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who described them as "very perceptive". He recommended Tony Blair, who was then Prime Minister, also read the files.

The three documents were written by a senior MI6 officer only referred to as "SIS4" in December 2001.

They were declassified and released yesterday by the Chilcot inquiry. Among the revelations are the following:

* Oil was a key motivating factor behind the efforts to remove Saddam. "The removal of Saddam remains a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies," the officer writes.

* MI6 did not believe that Saddam or Iraq were supporting al-Qa'ida. "There is no convincing intelligence (or common-sense) case that Iraq supports Sunni extremism," it says. But in January 2004, Mr Blair told the Commons: "We do know of links between al-Qa'ida and Iraq. We cannot be sure of the exact extent of those links."

* Britain believed America was planning military action to remove Saddam long before it was officially acknowledged. One document is dedicated to outlining the case for preventing America from taking direct action. They also refer to "US impatience".

But it was the plan to support a coup in Iraq which is most intriguing. The officer wrote: "At our meeting on 30 November [2001], we discussed how we could combine an objective of regime change in Baghdad with the need to protect important regional interests which would be at grave risk if a bombing campaign against Iraq were launched in the short term."

Under the heading a "new route map" the officer goes on to suggest that the West should adopt "an onion" approach to the problem – admitting only part of the plan in pubic but with detailed support for a coup in private.

"The key idea is that it is possible to speak openly about support for regime change in Iraq, without compromising the actual project to support a coup," the documents say. "The overall plan would need to be like an onion – each layer concealing the one below. The whole is a policy statement: 'we want regime change in Baghdad and we are ready to provide air support to coup makers'. The inmost part is knowledge of the coup makers with whom we are in touch and their operational plan. The layers in between would need to include operational plans."

Air support is defined as the act of using aircraft to attack an enemy to assist ground forces. The operational plans suggest a 12- to 18-month timeframe for the plot to work "to meet US impatience". It also questions the legality of Britain supporting a coup. "Government law officers to provide assurances of legality (there has been a serious problem here)," it says.

Mr Straw was asked about the documents when he was recalled by the committee in February. Because of their classification he had been given access to them in advance – in contravention of the inquiry's undertakings.

Yesterday it apologised and released his detailed comments about them. He said his comments that the papers were "perceptive" could in no way be taken as a "commendation of regime change".

He cited the MI6 officer's emphasis on the legality of any coup as the reason why he felt no need to question it.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before