MINISTERS were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.
The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier.
NI_MPU(‘middle’);The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair’s inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was “necessary to create the conditions” which would make it legal.
This was required because, even if ministers decided Britain should not take part in an invasion, the American military would be using British bases. This would automatically make Britain complicit in any illegal US action.
“US plans assume, as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia,” the briefing paper warned. This meant that issues of legality “would arise virtually whatever option ministers choose with regard to UK participation”.
The paper was circulated to those present at the meeting, among whom were Blair, Geoff Hoon, then defence secretary, Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, and Sir Richard Dearlove, then chief of MI6. The full minutes of the meeting were published last month in The Sunday Times.
The document said the only way the allies could justify military action was to place Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.
“It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject,” the document says. But if he accepted it and did not attack the allies, they would be “most unlikely” to obtain the legal justification they needed.
The suggestions that the allies use the UN to justify war contradicts claims by Blair and Bush, repeated during their Washington summit last week, that they turned to the UN in order to avoid having to go to war. The attack on Iraq finally began in March 2003.
So why did they want the war? I’m not clear on that. It wasn’t terrorism; it wasn’t WMDs. The oil? Couldn’t they get that anyway? American companies were dealing under the table with Hussein on a scale that would put Kofi’s kids to shame… And surely this war costs more than the increased cheapness of oil that might come from 0wning Iraq (but they didn’t expect it to go this way did they?) Was it really in reaction to the terrible economic threat of a switch from petrodollars to petroeuros? Was it just wanting to have a place in the Middle East that was stable and docile and on our side? (Boy, did we blow it if that was the goal…)
We know lies were told, and the stated motivations were pretenses, but what were the real motivations? Did the memos say that? They seem to have said the objective was a “stable and law-abiding Iraq.” Why that was worth a war, I’m not sure, but according to the Washington Post’s story on it, a big focus of the papers was that the Brits seemed to be aware that America was rushing in with no particular plan for the aftermath of the invasion, and they were worried they were going to be left holding the bag.