The lies that led us into war ... - Independent, UK
- The lies that led us into war ...
Glen Rangwala shows how the UK and the US manipulated
UN reports - and conjured an anthrax dump from thin
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
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
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.
Glen Rangwala is a lecturer in politics at Newnham
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