Sunday 01 June 2003
One key tactic of the British and United States governments in their campaign on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction was to talk up suspicions and to portray possibility as fact. The clearest example was the quotation and misquotation of the reports of United Nations weapons inspectors.
Iraq claimed it had destroyed all its prohibited weapons, either unilaterally or in co-operation with the inspectors, between 1991 and 1994. Although the inspectors were able to verify that unilateral destruction took place on a large scale, they were not able to quantify the amounts destroyed.
For example, they were able to detect that anthrax growth media had been burnt and buried in bulk at a site next to the production facility at al-Hakam. There was no way - and there never will be - to tell from the soil samples the amount destroyed. As a result, UN inspectors recorded this material as unaccounted for: neither verified destroyed nor believed to still exist.
Translated into statements by the British and US governments, it became part of "stockpiles" that they claimed Iraq was hiding from the inspectors. Both governments knew UN inspectors had not found any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Iraq since at least 1994, aside from a dozen abandoned mustard shells, and that the vast majority of any weapons produced before 1991 would have degraded to the point of uselessness within 10 years.
Even the most high-profile defector from Iraq - Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law and director of Iraq's weapons programmes - told UN inspectors and British intelligence agencies in 1995 that Iraq had no more prohibited weapons. And yet Britain's dossier last September repeated the false claim that information "in the public domain from UN reports ... points clearly to Iraq's continuing possession, after 1991, of chemical and biological agents and weapons produced before the Gulf War".
There is no UN report after 1994 that claims that Iraq continued to possess weapons of mass destruction. This was well known in intelligence circles. That such a claim could appear in a purported intelligence document is a clear sign that the information was "pumped up" for political purposes, to support the case for an invasion.
The Government began to resort to more direct misquotation in the immediate prelude to war, with UN chief inspector Hans Blix reporting on 7 March that Iraq was taking "numerous initiatives ... with a view to resolving long-standing open disarmament issues", and that this "can be seen as 'active', or even 'proactive' co-operation".
In response, Mr Blair and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, seized on the Unmovic working document of 6 March entitled "Unresolved Disarmament Issues",about matters that are still unclear. Although Mr Blix acknowledged Iraqi efforts to resolve these questions, the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary repeatedly claimed that the document showed Iraq still had prohibited weapons, a claim the report never made. They relied on the presumption - probably accurate - that few MPs would have time to go through its 173 pages, and would accept the Government's misleading pr cis.
Mr Blair quoted from the report in his speech to the Commons two days before the war began, to the effect that Iraq "had had far-reaching plans to weaponise" the deadly nerve agent VX. Note the tense: that quotation was from a "background" section of the report, on Iraq's policy before 1991.
US and British leaders repeatedly referred to the UN inspectors' estimate that Iraq produced 1.5 tonnes of VX before 1990. But in March Unmovic reported that Iraq's production method created nerve agent that lasted only six to eight weeks. Mr Blair's "evidence" was about a substance the inspectors consider to have been no threat since early 1991. The Prime Minister didn't mention that.
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