Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Ninth Report


1. The decision to commit armed forces to war is the most momentous any leader can take. The Prime Minister took such a decision in relation to Iraq, and United Kingdom forces joined those of the other coalition partners in military action there. However, unlike previous conflicts, the war in Iraq took place only after a substantive vote in Parliament, a development which we welcome.

2. We had before us in March 2003 a number of sources of information on the situation in Iraq. Foremost among these were papers provided by the Government, in which they set out their assessment of the Iraqi regime, its human rights abuses and its weapons programmes. Much of this evidence was based on intelligence information—another welcome innovation by the present Government—and it was frequently cited by those who contributed to the debate, both inside and outside Parliament.

3. The main military phase of the conflict was over remarkably quickly, although the situation remains dangerous and the death toll continues to rise. Few would dispute that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator and that the Iraqi people are well rid of him. But the war was fought not to effect regime change, but to enforce unanimous Resolutions of the UN Security Council. However, in addition to requiring the removal of what the British Government claimed was a "current and serious threat" from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD),[1] it should be reiterated that the reasons that Parliament granted the Government authority to embark on the conflict included a number of other important considerations. Most important among these was Iraq's persistent failure to comply with the ceasefire conditions it entered into at the end of the Gulf War and the fact that Iraq continued to refuse active co-operation "unconditionally and immediately" with the UN weapons inspectors. Questions have since been asked about the basis of the Government's claim. If those who cast doubt upon it are correct, and the claim was not well-founded, the war was fought on a false premise. And if the claim was exaggerated or embellished, as some have suggested, Parliament was misled.

4. This Report seeks to establish whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, within the Government as a whole, presented accurate and complete information to Parliament in the period leading up to military action in Iraq, particularly in respect of weapons of mass destruction. The focus on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is because their removal was the Government's prime objective. As the Government stated in the opening paragraph of its paper "Iraq: Military Campaign Objectives", published in March 2003, "The prime objective remains to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and their associated programmes and means of delivery, including prohibited ballistic missiles, as set out in the relevant United Nations Security Resolutions (UNSCRs)."[2]

5. We heard oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw (twice); the Permanent Under Secretary FCO, Sir Michael Jay; former Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House, Robin Cook MP; former International Development Secretary Clare Short MP; the Prime Minister's special adviser and Director of Communications, Alastair Campbell; former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Dame Pauline Neville Jones; Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Dr Gary Samore; former Porton Down scientist and former Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Dr Thomas Inch; former UNSCOM inspector, now Director of the IISS-US, Terence Taylor; former senior intelligence analyst at the Australian Office of National Assessments, Andrew Wilkie; student and writer on Iraqi affairs, Ibrahim al-Marashi; and BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan. We received written evidence from most of these and from others. Our advisers were Wyn Bowen of Kings College, London, Richard Cobbold, Director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) and Tim Youngs of the House of Commons Library. To each of them we are most grateful.

6. We are strongly of the view that we were entitled to a greater degree of co-operation from the Government on access to witnesses and to intelligence material. Our Chairman wrote to the Prime Minister (requesting his attendance and that of Alastair Campbell); the Cabinet Office Intelligence Co-ordinator; the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee; the Chief of Defence Intelligence; the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service; and the Director of GCHQ. None of them replied. It was the Foreign Secretary who informed us that they would not appear. The Chairman wrote a further letter to Alastair Campbell and after an initial refusal he agreed to appear. We asked for direct access to Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assessments and to relevant FCO papers. That was refused, although some extracts were read to us in private session. We are confident that our inquiry would have been enhanced if our requests had been met. We agree with Alastair Campbell that "it would have been very odd to have done this inquiry" without questioning him,[3] and we regret that other witnesses, some of whom we suspect felt the same way as Mr Campbell, were prevented from appearing. Yet it is fair to state that within the Government's self-imposed constraints the Foreign Secretary sought to be forthcoming, spending more than five hours before the Committee, and reading to us in private session limited extracts from a JIC assessment dated 9 September 2002.

7. In contrast, the Prime Minister has repeatedly said in the House that he will co-operate fully with a parallel inquiry by the statutory Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).[4] This is hardly surprising, since the Committee was appointed by and reports to him, and it meets entirely in private. The Foreign Affairs Committee, on the other hand, was appointed by and reports to the House of Commons, and we meet almost entirely in public. We believe that our inquiry is the more credible of the two, and that it would have been in the Government's best interests to have given full co-operation. We have more to say in a later section in this Report on the status of the ISC and on the need for this Committee to have access to intelligence material.[5]

1   Forword by the Prime Minister to Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government; also Q 735 Back

2   Iraq: the Military Campaign Objectives, available at: Back

3   Q 1057 Back

4   See, for example, HC Deb, 4 June 2003, col 147 Back

5   See paras 160 to 171 below Back

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Prepared 7 July 2003