Lord Hutton will report shortly on the ‘circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly’, but is likely to regard as beyond his remit such key questions as how the September 2002 dossier appears to include several dishonest claims and whether the country was falsely led into war. It is crucial, if Lord Hutton feels unable to tackle these central issues, that a separate judicial inquiry is now set up to establish beyond doubt what the truth really is and what the implications are for Britain’s governance.
On 10 February last year, five weeks before the war started, the Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee gave its assessment that there was no evidence that Iraq had provided chemical or biological weapons to al-Qaeda, though in the event of an imminent regime collapse ‘there would be a risk of transfer of such material’; in other words an attack on Iraq would increase the risk of terrorism. Tony Blair did not disclose this briefing before the war, and it only became known when the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee released it on 11 September.
It is quite clear that throughout 2002 both Washington and London were actively seeking, contrary to intelligence assessments, evidence to justify the case for war. Four key items were deployed for this purpose. One was almost immediately exposed as plagiarised from a student thesis more than 10 years old. The other three were documents purporting to show that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium for nuclear bombs from Niger, the claim that Iraq was able to deploy WMDs within 45 minutes, and ‘evidence’ from a top-level Iraqi defector that Iraq had produced several tons of the deadly nerve agent VX.
Each of these raise worrying questions of credibility which require systematic investigation by an independent inquiry. However, enough of the facts are now known to draw some important conclusions.
After months of failed requests, the International Atomic Energy Agency obtained the Niger documents from the US Government, and within a matter of hours established they were obviously forged and announced this on 7 March 2003, 10 days before the start of the war. CIA sources confirmed on 11 July that they had advised Britain to omit the Niger allegations in its September 2002 dossier. So on what justification was it included in this dossier?
Similar concerns surround the 45-minute claim. At the Hutton inquiry Dr Brian Jones from the Ministry of Defence, who described himself as ‘probably the most experienced intelligence official working on WMD’, said his leading chemical weapons expert was concerned he could not point to any solid evidence of production. Yet the Prime Minister’s foreword in the dossier stated unequivocally that ‘what I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons’. So why was the 45-minute claim included, at the request of the Prime Minister according to Alastair Campbell?
The fourth piece of evidence was used on 25 February 2003 when Tony Blair told the House of Commons that ‘it was only four years later, after the defection of Saddam’s son-in-law to Jordan, that the offensive biological weapons and the full extent of the nuclear programme were discovered’. However, a week later Newsweek obtained details of Kamel’s actual IAEA and Unscom debriefing. That reveals he said exactly the opposite. Does this mean that Kamel’s testimony was twisted to make the case for war when its public disclosure was not anticipated?
All these questions about Iraqgate 2003 arise because, as the BBC reported on 7 July, ‘members of the Foreign Affairs committee said that without full access to all the relevant papers and witnesses, nobody could resolve the row satisfactorily … The committee’s inquiry is hampered by Ministers’ continued refusal to allow it to see intelligence papers and question intelligence personnel’. That in a nutshell is why a full judicial inquiry is still urgently needed into why Britain went to war in Iraq.