Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Further memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office



  1.  Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed a threat to international peace and security because of its weapons of mass destruction, its missile systems and its systematic defiance of mandatory UNSCRs over 12 years. Our judgement was that a peaceful solution to the problem could only be found if Iraq complied in full with the unequivocal terms of UNSCR 1441 passed unanimously in November 2002. Once inspections resumed it quickly became clear that Saddam was not offering the active co-operation necessary to allow inspections to fulfil their objective. Nor did he make a full and accurate report of his programmes or plans to develop WMD to the UN as required by UNSCR 1441. Right up until the last moment, the British Government worked strenuously to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. Comprehensive illustration of Iraq's deception, and its WMD activities included the final report of UNSCOM inspectors in 1999, and the March 2003 UNMOVIC document on Iraq's unresolved disarmament issues, as well as intelligence material.


  2.  By 2003, Iraq had already had 12 years in which to comply with UN demands for WMD disarmament. Although it emerged in the 1980s that Saddam's regime had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and against Iraqi Kurds at Halabja, the full extent of Saddam's WMD programmes was not known until the 1990s and after the Gulf War. Security Council resolution 687—adopted in April 1991—required Iraq to co-operate with UN inspections and to comply in the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of its WMD programmes, facilities and equipment; its ballistic missiles with a range of over 150 km and their associated manufacturing and testing equipment.

  3.  Saddam set out to frustrate the will of the Security Council. He repeatedly submitted incomplete declarations of his WMD programmes and activities, and engaged in obstruction and harassment of UN inspectors. He also concealed WMD activities and only admitted an offensive biological warfare programme in 1995. By the late 1990s it was recognised that UN diplomacy needed to be backed by force. In February 1998 the Prime Minister said that Saddam "knows the threat of force is there and it is real". As a result of further obstruction of inspectors the US/UK took military action in Operation Desert Fox later in the same year.

  4.  When the UN inspectors withdrew in 1998 key questions remained unanswered. These were set out in a report to the UN Security Council in early 1999. They included Iraq's failure to account for up to 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, up to 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent, including 1.5 tonnes of the VX nerve agent, more than 30,000 special munitions for delivery of chemical and biological agents, and large quantities of growth media which could be used in the production of biological weapons.

  5.  Between 1998-2002 repeated efforts were made to secure the return of inspectors. UNSCR 1284 offered Saddam the prospect of the eventual suspension of sanctions if he co-operated fully with renewed inspections. But Saddam refused to move. It became increasingly clear that he had no intention of co-operating. It also became clear that UN sanctions were not succeeding in fulfilling the UN's objective, namely the WMD disarmament of Iraq: breaches of sanctions were multiplying, including the illegal export of oil which was putting millions of dollars at the disposal of the regime.

  6.  The events of 11 September 2001 changed the appreciation of the level of risk from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists and rogue regimes. As a result, Iraq inevitably came once again under the international spotlight.

  7.  In the early months of 2002, British Government statements underlined the singular threat posed by Iraq's behaviour. In an interview with the Times on 5 March 2002 the Foreign Secretary said that Saddam was unique among the world's tyrants in having both the ruthlessness and capability to employ weapons of mass destruction. In a Westminster Hall debate on 6 March 2002, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Ben Bradshaw, stated that our main concern was Iraq's determination to rebuild weapons of mass destruction programmes and the threat it posed not just to its neighbours but to the rest of the world. He emphasised the unique nature of the Iraq problem: Iraq was in breach of UN Security Council resolutions and of the cease-fire terms at the end of the Gulf War and had already used chemical weapons against its neighbours and against its own people.

  8.  By late March/April there was already speculation about the possibility of military action against Iraq. The then Parliamentary Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Ben Bradshaw, in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 23 April 2002 said that there were instances when military action would be justified without a further UN Resolution. He referred to the argument that because Iraq was in breach of the cease-fire agreement the cease-fire was no longer in force.

  9.  In early September 2002 the Prime Minister met President Bush at Camp David. At a Press Conference then they both emphasised the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The Prime Minister said that inaction was not a policy to which we could subscribe.


  10.  Against the background of growing international concern about Iraq, Parliament was re-called on 24 September 2002 to debate the issue. On the same day, the British Government published its dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. During the debate and during the Foreign Secretary's appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 25 September, the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary outlined the framework of HMG's policy. Containment was not working, but we had made no decision to take military action. Our argument was not that we should take military action, come what may, but that the case for verifying Iraqi disarmament and compliance with UNSCRs was overwhelming. The Foreign Secretary reiterated to the FAC that no decision on military action had been taken. However, we also made clear the threat was not an "imminent" one. We could not say that Saddam would use his weapons this month or next, even this year or next, a point underlined by the Prime Minister in his statement on 24 September. But, if the international community did not act decisively, Saddam's efforts would intensify and at some point the threat would become a reality for the region and wider world.

  11.  Throughout, we also made clear that we were committed to working with the UN. Alongside diplomacy there should be a genuine threat of military action, which required preparedness and planning to take action, if diplomacy failed.

  12.  The question of possible links with international terrorism and with al Qaeda were also considered at this time. The Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee that there was no evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein was behind al-Qaeda, although he had unquestionably supported terrorist organisations in the Middle East. And, given his hatred for the United States, it was reasonable to assume that he had some sympathy with al Qaeda's aim.

  13.  The British Government made clear its abhorrence of Saddam Hussein's human rights record and in December published a dossier outlining this. On 24 September the Foreign Secretary told the House that no other regime had Saddam's record for brutality, torture and execution as a routine way of life and as the principal means by which an elite stayed in power. He said that given this and the threat from Iraq's WMD, that country was uniquely evil and uniquely dangerous.

  14.  But it was never our policy to pursue regime change for its own sake. As early as 5 July, in a letter to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Mike O'Brien, had said that a more sympathetic regime in Iraq was desirable. Iraq would be a better place without Saddam Hussein. But the real issue was the threat that the Iraqi regime posed to its own people and the international community through its weapons of mass destruction programmes.

  15.  In the weeks after 24 September, there were intensive negotiations in New York and Security Council capitals leading to the adoption of UNSCR 1441 on 8 November. This obtained the unanimous support of members of the Security Council, who agreed that Iraq was in material breach of its obligations, and constituted a threat to international peace and security. This resolution fulfilled our objective of obtaining the re-admission of inspectors with stronger powers backed up by credible threat of force. In a statement to the House on 7 November, just before the resolution was adopted, the Foreign Secretary re-affirmed that the British Government wanted a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but that if diplomacy was to succeed it must be combined with a credible threat of force. It was this threat which had forced Saddam to concede the prospect of readmitting weapons inspectors. But Saddam should be in no doubt: his choice was to comply with the demands of the Security Council or face the "serious consequences". This was his "final opportunity" to comply.

  16.  It is worth also briefly recalling the statements made at the time on the question of second resolution to authorise military action. In a debate on UNSCR 1441 in the House on 25 November, the Foreign Secretary made clear the British Government's preference that in the event of a further material breach by Iraq, there should be a second resolution. But he reaffirmed that UNSCR 1441 did not stipulate that there had to be a second resolution. The French had proposed inserting a reference to the need for a (further) decision in as a pre condition to the use of force, but this was rejected by the Security Council. Instead, every member of the Security Council voted for the text of resolution 1441. In his speech to the Security Council on 8 November, the day that UNSCR 1441 was adopted, Sir Jeremy Greenstock emphasised that there was no automaticity in the resolution. If there was a further breach of its obligations by Iraq, the matter would return to the Council for further discussion.


  17.  Hopes that Saddam would actively comply with UNSCR 1441 were short-lived. His 8 December declaration was clearly inadequate. On 19 December the Secretary of State issued a statement saying that the report of UNMOVIC inspectors to the Security Council that day confirmed that Iraq had failed to meet the obligations imposed on it by UNSCR 1441.

  18.  Despite this the British Government was still urging Saddam to disarm peacefully. But pressure had to be maintained. The key points had not changed since September. The threat was the broad one arising from Saddam's clear determination to retain and develop his WMD capability. The Prime Minister told a Press conference on 13 January of his fear that one day a dictatorial state would use weapons of mass destruction as Iraq had done in the past—and that we would get sucked into a conflict.

  19.  Appearing before the Commons' Liaison Committee on 21 January the Prime Minister addressed the same issues. This was not a situation where there was an immediate threat to Britain of a nuclear strike from Iraq. He said "there is not an immediate act that Saddam has taken to provoke America, ourselves or other countries, but I think when you sit down and analyse this issue of weapons of mass destruction, and, as I say, the link that is inevitably going to be there with international terrorism, it is right that the world takes a stand".

  20.  Again, the Prime Minister said that the policy of containment of Iraq had only worked up to a point and was beginning to fracture. The sanctions regime was crumbling. Saddam had access to approximately $3 billion per year of illicit oil revenues.

  21.  The potential link between WMD and terrorism continued to be a prominent area of media interest. But the Prime Minister made clear there was no information directly linking Iraq to the events of 11 September. There was some intelligence about loose links between al Qaeda and various people in Iraq, but the justification for action in Iraq was separate from any potential link with al Qaeda. In particular, he noted that there was no information directly linking al Qaeda in Iraq and terrorist activity in the UK.

  22.  At the same time, the British Government was focusing on the problems which inspectors were encountering in Iraq. These underlined that inspections could not succeed without Saddam's active compliance. In his speech to the UNSC on 27 January, Dr Blix made the point that "inspection is not a game of catch as catch can . . . rather a process of verification for the purpose of creating confidence". The inspectors were also encountering troubling evidence. Dr Blix referred to the discovery of a number of chemical rocket warheads and a large number of documents relating to laser enrichment of uranium in the home of an Iraqi scientist.

  23.  On 5 February, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, briefed the UN Security Council on selected US intelligence information on Iraq's WMD activities. In the subsequent debate, the Foreign Secretary emphasised that Saddam was failing to take his final opportunity to co-operate. Saddam held UNSCR 1441 in the same contempt as all previous resolutions on Iraq. He was gambling that the Security Council would lose its nerve rather than enforce its will. The Iraqi declaration was not full, accurate or complete. It omitted to explain what had happened to the material unaccounted for by UN inspectors in 1998. Nor was there any admission of efforts to develop WMD since then. The Foreign Secretary said our worst fears were confirmed. Iraq had no intention of following the path of peaceful disarmament. The Foreign Secretary noted instances reported by Dr Blix which revealed Iraq's determination to avoid compliance. For example, Iraq was refusing to allow the inspectors to use a U2 plane to conduct surveillance. He asked how Iraq could explain concealment of nuclear documents and the development of a missile programme in contravention of UN resolutions.

  24.  Nine days later the Security Council met again on 14 February to hear reports from Dr Blix and Dr el Baradei. As the Foreign Secretary told the Council, further questions about Iraqi behaviour had emerged. Why had Iraq refurbished motor casting chambers and chemical processing equipment which had previously been destroyed by UNSCOM inspectors? Why were they resisting making available requested officials for interview in locations free from Iraqi bugging? Why had none of the issues identified by UNSCOM been satisfactorily dealt with?

  25.  The Foreign Secretary underlined the need for the Council to consider its own credibility. He said that the issue concerned the authority of the UN, and the responsibility of the Security Council for international peace and security. When the Security Council had unanimously adopted resolution 1441, every member knew that Iraq had WMD and long-range missiles and accepted that it was in material breach of previous resolutions. The question now was whether Iraq was demonstrating the active co-operation necessary. He reminded the Council that on 3 April 1991, the Council had given Iraq 90 days to disarm. Twelve years had passed and the Iraqi regime had continued to lie, to conceal and to play games. Dr Blix had said that the period of disarmament could still be short if immediate active and unconditional co-operation was forthcoming. This meant that Iraq was not yet demonstrating such co-operation. Nevertheless, the Foreign Secretary still hoped that a peaceful solution would be possible. But this would require a dramatic and immediate change by Saddam.


  26.  During February the British Government repeatedly stated that time was running out. On 26 February the Foreign Secretary told the House that Saddam's tactics all along had been to prevaricate in the hope of stringing out the process forever. New details had emerged of Saddam's attempts to frustrate inspections. The Foreign Secretary said that unrestricted interviews with scientists were the most important way in which to arrive at the truth of Iraq's CBW programmes. But there had been concerted Iraqi efforts to prevent access to scientists. There had also been categorical Iraqi denials that the Al Samoud II missile was a prohibited system. But this had been disproved by an independent panel of experts. In 15 weeks of inspections, the Inspectors had not been able to close a single outstanding issue.

  27.  The Foreign Secretary said he understood why there were calls for more time. But it was still not clear that Saddam was ready to break from the past. In the absence of active and immediate co-operation to fulfil the requirements of UNSCR 1441, more time would achieve nothing of substance.

  28.  Once again, the Foreign Secretary addressed the argument of persisting with containment. Containment was not the policy of disarmament set out in resolution 1441 or preceding resolutions. What might appear to be containment for some was rearmament for Saddam. The period 1998-02 had allowed Saddam to begin rebuilding his capabilities: according to UNMOVIC inspectors, Iraq had used that time to refurbish prohibited equipment previously disabled by UNSCOM; to build a missile test stand for missiles much more powerful than those of permitted systems and to develop al-Samoud missiles beyond the range permitted by UNSCRs.

  29.  More details of Saddam's failure to co-operate with the UN were highlighted in British Government statements. On 4 March, the Foreign Secretary appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee. He said that our current assessment was that Iraq had the capability to produce mustard gas, tabun, sarin, syclosarin and VX, and the biological agent, anthrax, botulinum toxin, aflatoxin and ricin. The Iraqi regime had put up an elaborate screen of concealment to cover this capability. Our intelligence information indicated that sensitive materials and documents had been hidden in the homes of employees, in hospitals, farms and other sites. WMD related items may have been buried and others were being kept on the move using trucks and trains. In early December, Saddam had issued instructions that scientists and their families were to be threatened if they revealed any sensitive information to the UN inspectors. They were ordered not to agree to any interviews with UN inspectors outside Iraq.

  30.  The Foreign Secretary once again repeated key arguments: there was a threat from having a tyrannical rogue regime like Saddam's in such an inherently unstable region as the Middle East; we could not allow it to continue to defy the UN. Iraq was certainly supporting terrorism in Israel and the Occupied Territories: refusal to deal with it would send a message to other regimes that they too could act in defiance of international obligations.

  31.  On 7 March, the Foreign Secretary attended another ministerial meeting of the Security Council. During the debate, the Foreign Secretary highlighted yet another example of Iraq's games playing. Iraq had recently issued a Presidential Decree prohibiting private individuals and companies from working on WMD. But the Decree did not cover the operations of the State. Iraq was therefore still refusing to fulfil its obligations set out by the Security Council in 1991. Although Iraq had reluctantly conceded 12 private interviews, scientists were intimidated by the Iraqi regime beforehand and were told their exchanges were being recorded.

  32.  The Foreign Secretary told the Security Council that the choice was Saddam Hussein's. Nothing had ever been automatic about the threat of force or the use of force. It was still possible for Saddam Hussein to comply. The UK remained committed to exploring every reasonable option for a peaceful outcome. Subsequently the British Government examined whether a list of defined tests for Iraqi compliance would be useful in helping the Security Council come to a judgement.

  33.  On 24 February the UK, US an Spain introduced a draft Security Council Resolution declaring that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in UNSRC 1441. But the UK made clear that we would not put the Resolution to the vote immediately. Instead we would give Saddam one further final chance to disarm voluntarily. At the Security Council on 7 March the Foreign Secretary announced that he was tabling a joint UK/US/Spanish amendment to the Resolution that would specify that Iraq had until 17 March to comply.

  34.  Over the following days, in consultation with Dr Blix and Security Council partners this ultimatum was refined. In a statement to the House on 10 March the Foreign Secretary underlined that the British Government had all along made clear their desire to secure a peaceful outcome to the crisis. It was for this reason that we were prepared to offer an ultimatum. Negotiations were continuing on whether a list of defined tests for Iraqi compliance would be useful in helping the Security Council to come to a judgement. The Foreign Secretary made clear that we did not expect Saddam to disarm in a week. But we were expecting Iraq to demonstrate active co-operation. There was no reason why Iraq could not make this clear within a matter of days. The Foreign Secretary expressed the hope that even at this late stage Iraq would seize the chance to disarm peacefully.

  35.  On 12 March the UK circulated a side statement to the Security Council setting out six benchmarks for Iraqi compliance. These were:

    —  a public statement from Saddam Hussein that Iraq would henceforth fully cooperate with inspectors including by requiring all Iraqis to hand over documentation and data, and to volunteer information on prohibited activities;

    —  inspectors would select 30 Iraqi scientists which Iraq would agree to make available for interview outside Iraq;

    —  Iraq must provide credible evidence to account for the whereabouts of all remaining anthrax, and associated production activities;

    —  Iraq must complete the destruction of all Al-Samoud II missiles and components;

    —  Iraq must fully account for all programmes to develop unmanned aerial vehicles and remotely piloted vehicles;

    —  Iraq must surrender for destruction all mobile chemical and biological facilities.

  36.  In the weeks before the conflict the British Government's focus was on Saddam's failure to demonstrate compliance with UNSCR 1441 and, the increasing irrelevance of giving him more time. In his statement to the House on 10 March, the Foreign Secretary acknowledged that there had been some limited movement such as the partial destruction of al-Samoud missiles, but this was only after UNMOVIC had declared the missiles in breach of Iraq's obligations. This was only the tip of the iceberg. A description of Iraq's WMD programme, its evasion and deceit was set out in 173 page document issued by UNMOVIC on 6 March, entitled "Unresolved Disarmament Issues—Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programme". Copies of this document were placed in the library of the House. The Foreign Secretary argued that, without more co-operation from Iraq, to continue inspections with no end firm date, would not achieve the disarmament required by the Security Council.

  37.  On 17 March, the Foreign Secretary published a second Command Paper (CM 5785) and other documents which included a nine page note summarising Iraq's record on non-compliance with UNSCR 1441. On 18 March a motion to the House of Commons calling for a further UNSC resolution before military action should take place was defeated by 396 votes to 217. A Government resolution approving the use of force was approved by 412 votes to 149.

  38.  During the 18 March debate the Prime Minister explained that we had explored every option for a peaceful solution to persuade Saddam Hussein to comply with UNSCR 1441. We had been ready to set clear benchmarks and an ultimatum. Unfortunately, despite the UK's efforts, a second resolution proved impossible.

  39.  On 20 March, in his address to the nation, the Prime Minister summarised the case against Iraq. He made clear that the threat to Britain was a new threat: of disorder and chaos born either of brutal states like Iraq, or of extreme terrorist groups. He explained his fear that these threats would come together. In his judgement, the threat was real, growing and of an entirely different nature from any previous conventional threat to Britain's security. The international community through the UN had tried to disarm Saddam for 12 years. UN inspectors said vast amounts of chemical and biological poisons remained unaccounted for in Iraq. Our choice was clear: back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened; or proceed to disarm him by force.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

19 June 2003

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