Chilcot yesterday–Well, that’s sorted, then

The Chiclot inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq picked up again at the end of June, and has been continuing to take testimony. There was a significant bombshell yesterday, when Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, testified that MI5 believed that invading Iraq would increase terrorist threats in Britain—and that is exactly what occurred. Not only that, MI5 had notified Tony Blair’s government a year prior to the invasion that Saddam Hussein’s regime posed no credible threat to Britain. So everything that Tony Blair said in his testimony, and indeed for the past nine years, has been an untruth. Or a lie, depending on how you feel at the moment. Of coure, we already knew that, but still, it’s different when your worst intuitions are confirmed. One irony that emerged was that MI5 asked for, and received, a 100% increase in its anti-terrorism budget.

According to Maningham-Buller, “Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack on Islam.” So Tony Blair was warned, and refused to heed the warnings. This should not exactly come as a surprise—Blair’s disconnection from the reality of Iraq has been apparent for some time, so it’s understandable that he was disconnected prior to the invasion as well. Remember, Blair testified that he sincerely believed that the world was safer as a result of Saddam’s removal from power. I imagine George Bush believes this too.

The Independent helpfully provides a summary of the contradictions between Blair’s comments leading up to and after the invasion, and in front of the Inquiry earlier this year, and those of Manningham-Buller, which are worth considering. What it shows is the chasm that existed between what Britain’s Intelligence Services were telling the government at the time, and what Tony Blair was telling the British people to justify the invasion. Here’s the lot:

Evidence: What he said – and what she said
False claims of links between al-Qa’ida and Saddam Hussein

Tony Blair claimed on 21 Jan 2003:
“There is some intelligence evidence about loose links between al-Qa’ida and various people in Iraq… It would not be correct to say there is no evidence whatever of linkages between al-Qa’ida and Iraq.”

Foreign Office spokesman claimed on 29 Jan 2003:
“We believe that there have been, and still are, some al-Qa’ida operatives in parts of Iraq controlled by Baghdad. It is hard to imagine that they are there without the knowledge and acquiescence of the Iraqi government.”

Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, yesterday:
“There was no credible intelligence to suggest that connection and that was the judgment, I might say, of the CIA.”

Hand-picking flimsy ‘intelligence’
Blair, to the Commons 24 Sept 2002:
“It [the intelligence service] concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes; and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability…”

Blair, to the Commons 25 Feb 2003:
“The intelligence is clear: He [Saddam] continues to believe his WMD programme is essential both for internal repression and for external aggression. The biological agents we believe Iraq can produce include anthrax, botulinum, toxin, aflatoxin and ricin. All eventually result in excruciatingly painful death.”

Manningham-Buller, yesterday:
“The nature of intelligence – it is a source of information, it is rarely complete, it needs to be assessed, it is fragmentary… We were asked to put in some low-grade, small intelligence to it [the September 2002 dossier] and we refused because we didn’t think it was reliable.”

Iraq posed no risk to Britain
Blair, to the Commons 10 April 2002:
“Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction, and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked. He is a threat to his own people and to the region and, if allowed to develop these weapons, a threat to us also.”

Manningham-Buller, yesterday:
“We regarded the direct threat from Iraq as low… we didn’t believe he had the capability to do anything in the UK.”

Ministers were told that invading Iraq would increase the threat of terrorism to Britain
Blair, farewell speech at the Labour conference, 26 September 2006:
“This terrorism isn’t our fault. We didn’t cause it. It’s not the consequence of foreign policy.”

Manningham-Buller, yesterday:
“It was communicated through the JIC assessments, to which I fed in… I believe they [senior ministers] did read them. If they read them, they can have had no doubt.”

The Iraq war made Britain a more dangerous place and allowed al-Qa’ida to gain a hold in Iraq
Blair, 29 Jan 2010:
“If I am asked whether I believe we are safer, more secure, that Iraq is better, that our own security is better, I believe we are. The world is safer as a result.”

Manningham-Buller, yesterday:
“Our involvement in Iraq radicalised a generation of young people who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as an attack on Islam. We [MI5] were pretty well swamped… with intelligence on a broad scale that was pretty well more than we could cope with in terms of plots, leads to plots and things that we needed to pursue.

“We gave Osama bin Laden his Iraqi jihad so that he was able to move into Iraq in a way that he was not before.

The hearings continue today, with lots of testimony from police chiefs on the counter-terrorism implications of the invasion. Next week we’re back to British military leaders on whether preparations for the invasion and occupation were sufficient. But we also get two stars next week as well—Hans Blix, who was the Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission from 2000 to 2003, and who said at the time that Saddam almost certainly had no Weapons of Mass Destruction; and John Prescott, who was Tony Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister, whose job it was to keep restless Labour MPs in line.

One question that has come up is whether Blair will be recalled, given the conflicting nature of his comments before the Inquiry with that of many others, including Manningham-Buller. This also applies to some of the other questionable enablers, particularly Lord Goldsmith, who provided the legal advice to justify the invasion, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Minister at the time. We’ll see. But they should be. And let’s put them under oath this time.

The above stamp was issued by the Iraqi Postal Service to celebrate Saddam’s 65th birthday, way back in 2002.

3 replies »

  1. It’s really a shame that there’s no real mechanism for dealing with malfeasance on this scale in the way it properly deserves. I don’t want to engage in hyperbole, nor do I want to be taken as shrill and unreasonable. In truth, some of my views on how we have to deal with the world we live in are pretty …. “conservative.” But being pragmatic and cold-eyed about dealing with realities is a very different thing from being an ideological asshat whose actions make that reality significantly worse.

    Under other circumstances, men like Blair and Bush would be sitting in front of war crimes tribunals with their lives hanging in the balance. Their sins include precipitating the needless deaths of millions of innocents and making the world a more dangerous place for at least a couple of generations.

    The Chilcot inquiry is far superior to anything we’d ever undertake in the US, but it’s still going to fall far short of what we ought to demand in the way of accountability, isn’t it?

  2. Well, based on the last two inquiries, I’m not getting my hopes up. Still, the material that has come out is very damaging to the Blair government, and few are emerging with any honor or integrity intact. It’s difficult to see how the inquiry members, some of whom were supportive of the invasion to begin with, can come to any resolution supportive of the Blair government. There was just too much obvious incompetence and deception. There is still an (admittedly unlikely) scenario where Blair could sand trial on war crimes in front of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, and some of us have vague hopes in that regard–although they’re not exactly high hopes. Since the US is not a signatory, however, there is no chance that Bush will ever be brought to any kind of justice.

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