Memorandum from Rt Hon Robin Cook MP
1. In my resignation speech I said, "Iraq
probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood
sense of the termnamely, a credible device capable of being
delivered against a strategic city target". This would now
appear to be correct. Such weapons require substantial industrial
plant and a large workforce. It is inconceivable that both could
have been kept concealed for the two months we have been in occupation
2. I have never ruled out the possibility
that we may unearth some old stocks of biological toxins or chemical
agents and it is possible that we may yet find some battlefield
chemical shells. Nevertheless, this would not constitute Weapons
of Mass Destruction and would not justify the claim before the
war that Iraq posed what the Prime Minister described as "a
current and serious threat" (Foreword to the September dossier).
3. There arise from the present position
on the ground five clusters of questions which I hope your inquiry
will be able to resolve:
4. Why is there such a difference between
the claims made before the war and the reality established after
5. The following claims are now unlikely
to be substantiated, however much longer time is given.
"Iraq continues to produce chemical
agents for chemical weapons; has rebuilt previously destroyed
production plants across Iraq" (The Prime Minister, (Hansard)
24 September, at Column three). If we have not yet identified
any of these "rebuilt production plants" it is unlikely
that we ever will. A chemical production facility is a substantial
enterprise and there is probably no country that has been more
mapped by aerial surveillance than Iraq.
"Saddam continues in his efforts
to develop nuclear weapons" (The Prime Minister's Foreword
to the September dossier.) Again it is unlikely that we will now
find a nuclear programme capable of producing a nuclear weapon
on a timescale that would justify urgent action. A nuclear weapons
programme requires substantial industrial sites and will often
release identifiable radiation signals.
The Prime Minister further added on
24 September "We know that Saddam has been trying to buy
significant quantities of uranium from Africa". Since the
February presentation by the IAEA to the Security Council we know
that the documents which provided the primary evidence for this
claim were crude forgeries.
"Saddam has existing and active
plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could
be activated within 45 minutes" (The Prime Minister, (Hansard)
24 September, Column 3). We have now inspected every munitions
storage facility in Iraq and have found no chemical or biological
weapon and none within a 45 minute radius of artillery deployments.
I note that the Government no longer predicts that they will find
actual weapons but that they will produce evidence of programmes.
As this Committee shadows the Foreign Office, it is only fair
to note that the Foreign Office, and Jack Straw, were notably
more cautious in their claims.
6. Did the Government itself come to
doubt these claims before the war?
7. It is now admitted by the State Department
that Colin Powell had serious doubts about the intelligence material
and spent four days challenging it before his presentation to
the Security Council in February. His presentation was more cautious
than the September dossier and the uranium from Africa claim was
rejected by him.
8. Given the close relationship between
State and Foreign Office did they share with us their doubts?
If they did not, are we not concerned that they concealed those
doubts from us?
9. None of the above claims from the September
debate were repeated by the Government in the March debate. This
is curious given the pressure they were under to secure a majority
for military action. Had the Government itself come to doubt the
reliability of the September claims? If so, should Ministers not
have corrected the record before asking the House to vote on war?
10. Could biological or chemical agents
have fallen into the hands of terrorists since the war?
11. In his speech on 18 March, the Prime
Minister laid great stress on the danger that a capability for
Weapons of Mass Destruction might pass from rogue states to terrorist
organisations. "The possibility of the two coming togetherof
terrorist groups in possession of weapons of mass destruction
or even of a so-called dirty radiological bombis now, in
my judgment, a real and present danger to Britain and its national
security." (Hansard,18 March, column 788)
12. Government statements have repeatedly
quantified the volume of chemical and biological agents in Iraq
which remain unaccounted for. Most frequently they quote 10,000
litres of anthrax. Until the war any such stocks would be securely
guarded by the inner core of Saddam's elaborate security forces.
However, since the war and the collapse of the security apparatus,
they presumably have been left unguarded and unsecured.
13. Does the Government really believe that
such stocks of chemical and biological agents existed at the time
of the war? If so, what assurances can they offer that they have
not since become accessible to any of the terrorist organisations
in the region? Instead of eliminating the risk of transfer of
Weapons of Mass Destruction to terrorist organisations, could
the war have opened potential access to such material by terrorists?
In particular, could the looting of the Al Tuwaitta nuclear plant
not have provided precisely the radiological material for a dirty
bomb about which the Prime Minister expressed specific concern?
14. Why do we not allow the UN Weapon
Inspectors back into Iraq?
15. The war was justified by Saddam's failure
to show sufficient compliance with the UN Weapons Inspectors.
Ironically, it is now we who are refusing any compliance with
the same inspectors.
16. I can understand that in view of their
longstanding hostility to the UN Inspectors the US may not be
willing to admit them into their sector. Presumably, though, it
would still be open to British forces to admit the UN Weapons
Inspectors to the territory they occupy.
17. It is difficult to resist the conclusion
that the primary reason for keeping out the United Nations Weapons
Inspectors is that they would confirm there was no immediate threat
from a credible Weapons of Mass Destruction.
18. Does the absence of Weapons of Mass
Destruction undermine the legal basis of the war?
19. Throughout the build-up to war the Government
studiously avoided justifying invasion on the grounds that it
would remove Saddam. "I have never put the justification
for action as regime change." (The Prime Minister, (Hansard)
18 March, column 772). Undoubtedly, the principal reason for such
caution was the legal advice that there was no basis in international
law for an attack to remove Saddam.
20. The Attorney General's legal advice
is founded entirely on the failure of Saddam to comply with the
"obligations on Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction".
I am no lawyer, but it does appear arguable that if Iraq had no
Weapons of Mass Destruction there could in logic be no legal basis
for a war to eliminate them.
21. In present circumstances the Attorney
General's opinion would appear to be sound in theory but unsound
in fact. As Menzies Campbell observed in the recent debate, it
must be doubtful if the Attorney General would have given the
same opinion if he had known then that it would prove so difficult
to find any prohibited weapons.
22. I fully understand why the Foreign Affairs
Committee has chosen to focus the present inquiry on the justification
for the war. However, there has been a much wider impact on our
international relations from Britain's participation in the unilateral
decision of the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike.
The Iraq war has divided us from our principle partners in Europe.
It has removed us from the inside track which we had built up
with Russia under Putin. It has undermined the authority of the
Security Council as the forum for multilateral decisions on peace
and security. It has reduced our standing throughout the Third
World, where few countries supported US intervention. It has broken
up the impressive global coalition against world terrorism, which
came into being in response to the attack on the twin towers.
23. These consequences represent damage
to our national interests greater than any gain for Britain from
its part in the war. I hope that in longer time the Foreign Affairs
may be able to review the impact of the war on Britain's foreign
Robin Cook MP
17 June 2003