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Bush, Blair and Howard – Three reckless adventurers in Iraq (Part 13)

The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.

Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? This, and more, is investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.

Deception on a grand scale (continued)

During the summer of 2002, both British and U.S. aircraft continued to bomb southern Iraq under cover of the no-fly zone while Blair and Hoon insisted that nothing was happening.

At Cabinet, on 20 June 2002, “[para.] 128. Mr Blair was questioned about the UK’s approach to Iraq.

  1. The minutes record that Mr Hoon stated that, except for continuing patrols in the No-Fly Zones, no decisions had been taken in relation to military operations in Iraq. The discussion with Secretary Rumsfeld was not mentioned. [Emphasis added]
  2. Cabinet did not discuss Iraq between 20 June and 24 July when the House of Commons rose for the summer recess.” SECTION 3.3., p. 26.

On 15 Jul 2002, on a question by Mrs. Alice Mahon MP (Halifax): “In the light of mounting press speculation over the past few days, will the Secretary of State confirm that, under the guise of the war against terrorism, British troops are not being situated in the middle east in preparation for participation in a war against Iraq?”

Mr. Hoon replied: “May I make it clear to my hon. friend and the House that absolutely no decisions have been taken by the British Government in relation to operations in Iraq or anywhere near Iraq in the Middle East? It follows, therefore, that no decisions have been taken to deploy British forces in that region for that reason. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that any such decision would be properly reported to the House, as right hon. and hon. Members properly expect.” (www.parliament.uk, 15 July 2002: Column 10) (Report, SECTION 3.3, para. 198, p.37).

The following day, 16 July,

“195. Mr Blair told the [Parliament] Liaison Committee … that he believed weapons of mass destruction posed an enormous threat to the world.

that

  1. There was no doubt that Iraq posed a threat in respect of weapons of mass destruction which should be dealt with. No decisions had been taken on military action. [Emphasis added].

and that

  1. Mr Blair was not seeking to influence the US but to work in partnership.” (Report, SECTION 3.3., p. 37).

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon were able to claim throughout 2002 that no decision had been taken on military action because the truth of what was taking place in southern Iraq under cover of the U.N.-authorised no-fly zones was kept on an extremely tight “need to know” basis. Even fairly senior British officials believed the increased air strikes were simply the result of the relaxation of the rules of engagement.

On Tuesday 23 July 2002 Mr. Blair was due to have a meeting of the war cabinet. In preparation for that meeting, the Cabinet Office produced a briefing paper which was one of the leaked Downing St. Memos.

This is the already considered fairly lengthy document, which was marked ‘Personal. Secret UK eyes only’, and contained the text of a Cabinet Office Briefing Paper prepared for all those attending a meeting of the British war cabinet at 10 Downing Street on 23 July 2002. The document was headed: ‘Iraq: condition for military action’.

“3. We need now to reinforce this message and to encourage the US Government to place its military planning within a political framework, partly to forestall the risk that military action is precipitated in an unplanned way by, for example, an incident in the No Fly Zones. This is particularly important for the UK because it is necessary to create the conditions in which we could legally support military action. Otherwise we face the real danger that the US will commit themselves to a course of action which we would find very difficult to support.” [Emphasis added].

No further evidence seems necessary to support the view that the air war was illegal. Those conditions in which Britain could legally support military action did not yet exist. They had to be created. It was clearly not known to the officials who drafted the briefing paper that R. A.F. aircraft and for that matter R.A.F. servicemen were already involved in military action against Iraq; and this was not legal under the U.K. interpretation of international law.

At that meeting Sir Richard Dearlove [then head of MI6] had been invited to provide the meeting with a “brief account of his recent talks with [Mr George] Tenet [Director Central Intelligence] and Condi [Rice]”. Sir Richard had returned from Washington “convinced that the Administration have moved up a gear”. (Report, SECTION 6.3, [para.] 334, p. 58) and …

Sir Richard Dearlove “reported that there was “a perceptible shift in attitude” in Washington: “Military action was now seen as inevitable.” President Bush “wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But [in the United States] the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record.” [Emphasis added] (Report, [para.] 342, p.59)

Defence Secretary Hoon was able to add something interesting to the discussion. Another Downing Street Memo, also dated 23 July 2002, was titled ‘Secret and strictly personal – UK eyes only’ and contained the Text of the minutes of a meeting of the British war cabinet held at Downing Street on that day.

In attendance were David Manning, the Defence Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C [Sir Richard Dearlove], Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan and Alastair Campbell. They were meeting the Prime Minister to discuss Iraq.

The record of the meeting, prepared by Matthew Rycroft, was classified as “extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.”

Here is the full content of that document:

“John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam’s regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C [Sir Richard Dearlove] reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, though military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. [Emphasis added] The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS [Admiral Sir Michael Boyce] said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August. The two broad US options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun “spikes of activity” to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January [2003], with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections. [Emphasis added]

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military actions, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.[Emphasis added].

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change. [Emphasis added].

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battle plan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions. For instance, what were the consequences if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

Tomorrow: Deception on a grand scale (continued)

GeorgeVenturini Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.

⬅️ Part 12

➡️ Part 14

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