A deliberate policy of exaggeration and omission in the intelligence over Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction paved the way for the invasion of Iraq: this was the damning conclusion of Sir John Chilcot’s report.
The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which produced the now notorious dossier claiming that Iraq had nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities broadly produced what Tony Blair’s government wanted to hear. And, it remained silent when the Prime Minister even ignored what caveats there were in the dossier to make his case for war.
“In the House of Commons on 24 September 2002, Mr Blair presented Iraq’s past, current and future capabilities as evidence of the severity of the potential threat from Iraq’s WMD” stated Sir Chilcot.
“He said that, at some point in the future, that threat would become a reality. The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities in that statement, and in the dossier published the same day, were presented with a certainty that was not justified… It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.”
The highlighting of the alleged WMD threat was part of a “clever strategy” that Mr Blair had suggested to George W Bush for regime change in Iraq, the report held. This was one of the main factors with what subsequently unfolded. “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not the last resort.”
Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, played a key role in making Iraq a target. The report points out that before the dossier was produced “ the threat from Iraq was viewed as less serious than that from other key countries of concern —- Iran, Libya and North Korea.”
The Blair government commissioned an intelligence paper on the WMD threat from “rogue” states. On seeing it, on 8th March 2002, Mr Straw wanted to stress “ Good, but should not Iraq be the 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.”
On 18th March, the report noted, that a paper on Iraq should be issued without mentioning other countries of concern. However, four days later, “Mr Straw was advised that the evidence would not convince public opinion that there was an imminent threat from Iraq. Publication was postponed”.
So the operation began to find material to convince public opinion that military action was necessary began to take place. Central to this was the JIC which was tasked by Downing Street to produce the dossier and its chairman, John Scatlett. What the report does not say was that after producing the “dodgy dossier” Mr Scarlett was knighted and made the head of MI6, something he had coveted.
Intelligence provided at the time by MI6 had relied heavily on sources who were subsequently found to lack credibility. Important parts of that evidence, which went into the dossier, was not shown to DIS (Defence Intelligence Staff) whose analysts were experts on WMD and could have pointed out the flaws in the supposed intelligence.
“The SIS report should have been shown to relevant experts in the DIS who could have advised their senior managers and assessment staff” said the report. “Expert officials in the DIS questioned the certainty with which some of the judgments in the dossier were expressed.”
The JIC’s starting basis was to totally ignore the possibility that Iraq may not actually have any WMDs. “At no stage was the hypothesis that Iraq might not have chemical. Biological or nuclear weapons or programmes identified and examined by the JIC… Iraq’s statements that it had no weapons or programmes were dismissed as further evidence of a strategy of denial.”
In a foreword he wrote to the dossier, Mr Blair declared that “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”.
But, the report points out : “the assessed intelligence had not established beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons … 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 [but] it did not say that Iraq had continued to produce weapons.” The report also points out “the dossier made clear that, as long as sanctions remain effective, Iraq could not produce a nuclear weapon.”
The report stresses that “the firmness of Mr Blair’s beliefs, despite the underlying uncertainties, is important in considering how the judgments in the Foreword would have been interpreted by Cabinet and in its discussions and by Parliament.
By allowing this to happen, said the report, John Scarlett and the JIC had failed in its duty. “The JIC should have made that position clear because its ownership of the dossier, which was intended to inform a highly controversial policy debate, carried with the responsibility to ensure that the JIC’s integrity was protected.”
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