The Secret 23 July 2002 Downing Street
Memo - Key Quotes And Commentary
The full text of this top secret memo is
on the JNV site, taken from the Sunday
Times, 1 May 2005.
The meeting on 23 July 2002 involved the
major decision-makers in the drive to war: Tony
Blair; Geoff Hoon
(Defence Secretary); Jack Straw
(Foreign Secretary); the Government's legal adviser Lord
Goldsmith (the Attorney General); the head of the Joint
Intelligence Committee (the top level of British intelligence)
John Scarlett; Sir
Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6 (the British equivalent
of the CIA), referred to as 'C'; David
Manning, Tony Blair's Foreign Policy Adviser (equivalent
to the US National Security Advisor); Admiral
Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS);
Jonathan Powell, head of
staff at Number 10; and Alistair
Campbell, then director of strategy.
The minutes were drawn up for David Manning
by his assistant, Matthew Rycroft.
INTELLIGENCE BEING FIXED AROUND THE POLICY
'C', the head
of MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA, said that after visting
Washington, 'Military action
was now seen as inevitable.'
He went on 'Bush
wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by
the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.'
The intelligence chief remarked that in the
US, 'the intelligence and facts
were being fixed around the policy.'
IRAQ NOT A THREAT
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, said, 'the
case was thin': 'Saddam was
not threatening his neighbours,
and his WMD capability was
less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.'
USING THE INSPECTORS
Straw continued: 'We
should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back
in the UN weapons inspectors.' Why? 'This
would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.'
Tony Blair emphasised this: 'The
Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference
politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.'
The Attorney General 'said
that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military
Tony Blair countered that 'Regime
change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime
that was producing the WMD.'
He added: 'If
the political context were right, people would support regime
WAR IS INEVITABLE - JULY 2002
In the conclusions of the meeting, it was
minuted that, 'We should work on
the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action.'
Tony Blair said, on 23 July 2002, 'The
two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether
we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space
The key issue was not
how the world could disarm Iraq - either by inspections or by
war. The key issues were whether the
war plan would work, and if the
'political context' could be created in which the public
would 'support regime change' and give the military 'the space
The day after this meeting concluded that
'the UK would take part in any military action', Tony Blair said
in the House of Commons, 'We have not got to the stage of military
action. If we do get to that stage, at any point in time, we will,
of course, make sure that Parliament is properly consulted (col
975)... we have not yet reached the point of decision (col
USING THE INSPECTORS
War was certain. It was just a matter of
shaping public opinion, and drawing up good plans for battle.
In this strategy, the inspectors would be
a critical tool - not a tool for disarmament,
but a tool for public relations.
INSPECTIONS: THE WHITE HOUSE NIGHTMARE
The US/UK strategy of using the
inspectors as a device was already clear in July 2002. We pointed
out in Briefing
19 that, in the White House, UN weapons inspectors were seen
as a potential problem rather than a solution:
in the White House believe that demands on Saddam to re-admit
United Nations weapons inspectors should be set so high that he
would fail to meet them unless he provided officials with total
freedom.’ (Times, 16 February 2002, p. 19)
A US intelligence
official has said the White House ‘will not take yes for
an answer’. (Guardian, 14 February 2002, p. 1)
Seymour Hersh, the noted US investigative
reporter wrote in December 2001: ‘Inside the Administration,
there is general consensus on one issue, officials told me: there
will be no further effort to revive the UN inspection regime withdrawn
in late 1998’. (New Yorker, 24 December 2001, p. 63)
According to one former US official, ‘The
is that inspectors will
be admitted, will not be terribly vigorous and not find anything.
Economic sanctions would be eased, and the U.S. will be unable
to act... and the closer it comes to the 2004 elections the more
difficult it will be to take the military route.’ (Washington
Post, 15 April 2002, p. A01)
'The more hawkish members of the US defence
department are said to favour direct military action on Iraq,
which would be more difficult if weapons inspectors were on the
ground.' (FT, 5 March 2002, p. 10)
US Secretary of State Colin Powell (allegedly
a 'dove') made it clear that the the inspectors were irrelevant:
‘US policy is that, regardless of what the inspectors do,
the people of Iraq and the people of the region would be better
off with a different regime in Baghdad. The United States reserves
its option to do whatever it believes might be appropriate to
see if there can be a regime change.’ The issue of the inspectors
was a ‘separate and distinct and different’ matter
from the US position on Saddam Hussein’s leadership, said
Powell. (Guardian, 6 May 2002)
The ‘principals’ in the Bush
that Saddam is working his own UN angle for the return of weapons
inspectors to Iraq, whose presence could make the US look like
a bully if it invades.’ ‘"The
White House’s biggest fear is that UN weapons inspectors
will be allowed to go in,"
says a top Senate foreign policy aide.’ (Time magazine,
13 May 2002, p. 38)
REFUSING INSPECTIONS - MARCH 2002
That is why, when on 1 March 2002, Baghdad
invited Britain to send weapons inspectors to Iraq, Britain refused
'Iraq is ready to receive right now any British
team sent by Blair and accompanied by the British media to show
the world where and how is Iraq developing such weapons,’
said an unidentified Iraqi spokesperson in the official al-Thawra
Press, 1 March 2002)
This news wire report was ignored by the
Government, and by the media, apart from a buried note (Independent,
4 March 2002, p. 2) and a one-line reference in a Times editorial
(8 March 2002). As we commented
at the time, 'Such offers should be explored, not ignored.'
REFUSING INSPECTIONS - SEPTEMBER 2002
When Iraq did unconditionally accept the
re-entry of UN weapons inspectors six months later, the United
States was shocked and dismayed.
The Independent's Rupert Cornwell
wrote that 'emerging as the key issue of the Iraq crisis' was
the US 'insistence that United
Nations inspectors cannot return until the UN has passed
a stern new resolution spelling out the consequences if Baghdad
fails to cooperate'.
'In a thinly-veiled threat, the Secretary
of State Colin Powell, regarded as the spokesman of the moderates
within the Bush administration bluntly told a Congressional committee
that the US would prevent the
inspectors return unless they were armed with a resolution
spelling out the consequences if Iraq did not grant them full
and unfettered access to all suspect sites. (Independent, 21 September
2002, p. 11)
Colin Powell told the Congressional committee,
'There is standing authority for the inspection team but there
are weaknesses in that authority which make the current regime
unacceptable. And we need a new resolution to clean that up and
put new conditions on the Iraqis so that there is no wriggling
out . . . if somebody tried to
move the [inspectors'] team in right now, we would find ways to
thwart that.' (Telegraph, 21 September 2002, p. 20)
IRAQ REFUSES TO REFUSE
Tony Blair has sought to defend himself by
on 1 May 2005, 'The idea that we had decided definitively for
military action at that stage is wrong, and disproved by the fact
that several months later we went back to the UN to get a final
resolution, and actually the conflict didn't begin until four
months after that.'
But the US and UK only went to the Security
Council for what turned out to be Resolution 1441 after
Iraq had accepted the weapons inspectors' return, and the purpose
of this maneouvre was to prevent
the immediate entry of inspector to Iraq, and to 'put new conditions
on the Iraqis' (Colin Powell).
The new Resolution was not pursued because
the US and UK would only go to war with the authority of the UN.
The new Resolution sought in the hopes that something could be
crafted that would look reasonable to the outside world, but which
would be so objectionable that it would be rejected by Iraq.
With much tougher inspection rights and with
strong language 'spelling out the consequences if Baghdad failed
to cooperate', the new Resolution was supposed to push the Iraqis
into refusing to admit the inspectors. The new rights of inspection
were supposed to be so objectionable that Baghdad would refuse
to permit the inspectors to return (ideally), or would fail to
abide by the letter of the Resolution (the fall-back position);
and the 'consequences' in the Resolution could then be applied
(in other words, war).
The Resolution was designed to be refused.
This strategy had its British roots in the
July 2002 meeting, when Jack Straw said: 'We
should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back
in the UN weapons inspectors.' And Tony Blair added
'that it would make a big difference politically and legally if
Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.'
But Iraq refused to refuse the inspectors,
and Hans Blix and his colleagues were able to do valuable work.
They were well on the way to discovering that Iraq had no weapons
of mass destruction (the ultimate White House nightmare scenario)
when they were ordered out of the country on 17 March 2003.
The July 2002 memo confirms what was long
that the British Government had decided
on war by mid-2002;
that the evidence and intelligence
was 'fixed around the policy' rather than the evidence determining
that dislodging Saddam Hussein (misleadingly
referred to as 'regime change') rather than disarmament was the
key goal from the very beginning;
that UN inspectors were seen from the
outset as a public relations device rather than as a means of
that Britain (and the US) were trying
to create a situation in which Baghdad would refuse
to re-admit the inspectors, in order to create a political and
legal justification for a war they were already committed to for
that Tony Blair and his ministers lied
through their teeth.