During that time, I helped negotiate several UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq, including resolution 1284 which, inter alia, established UNMOVIC (an acronym I coined late one New York night during the year-long negotiation). I took part in policy debates within HMG and in particular with the US government. I attended many policy discussions on Iraq with the US State Department in Washington, New York and London.
My concerns about the policy on Iraq divide into three:
1. The Alleged Threat
I read the available UK and US intelligence on Iraq every working day for the four and a half years of my posting. This daily briefing would often comprise a thick folder of material, both humint and sigint. I also talked often and at length about Iraq's WMD to the international experts who comprised the inspectors of UNSCOM/UNMOVIC, whose views I would report to London. In addition, I was on many occasions asked to offer views in contribution to Cabinet Office assessments, including the famous WMD dossier (whose preparation began some time before my departure in June 2002).
During my posting, at no time did HMG assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests. On the contrary, it was the commonly-held view among the officials dealing with Iraq that any threat had been effectively contained. I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed). (At the same time, we would frequently argue, when the US raised the subject, that "r¿gime change" was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.)
Any assessment of threat has to include both capabilities and intent. Iraq's capabilities in WMD were moot: many of the UN's weapons inspectors (who, contrary to popular depiction, were impressive and professional) would tell me that they believed Iraq had no significant mate"riel. With the exception of some unaccounted-for Scud missiles, there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW, BW or nuclear material. Aerial or satellite surveillance was unable to get under the roofs of Iraqi facilities. We therefore had to rely on inherently unreliable human sources (who, for obvious reasons, were prone to exaggerate).
Without substantial evidence of current holdings of WMD, the key concern we pursued was that Iraq had not provided any convincing or coherent account of its past holdings. When I was briefed in London at the end of 1997 in preparation for my posting, I was told that we did not believe that Iraq had any significant WMD. The key argument therefore to maintain sanctions was that Iraq had failed to provide convincing evidence of destruction of its past stocks.
Iraq's ability to launch a WMD or any form of attack was very limited. There were approx 12 or so unaccounted-for Scud missiles; Iraq's airforce was depleted to the point of total ineffectiveness; its army was but a pale shadow of its earlier might; there was no evidence of any connection between Iraq and any terrorist organisation that might have planned an attack using Iraqi WMD (I do not recall any occasion when the question of a terrorist connection was even raised in UK/US discussions or UK internal debates).
There was moreover no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or US. I had many conversations with diplomats representing Iraq's neighbours. With the exception of the Israelis, none expressed any concern that they might be attacked. Instead, their concern was that sanctions, which they and we viewed as an effective means to contain Iraq, were being delegitimised by evidence of their damaging humanitarian effect.
I quizzed my colleagues in the FCO and MOD working on Iraq on several occasions about the threat assessment in the run-up to the war. None told me that any new evidence had emerged to change our assessment; what had changed was the government's determination to present available evidence in a different light. I discussed this at some length with David Kelly in late 2002, who agreed that the Number 10 WMD dossier was overstated.
The legality of the war is framed by the relevant Security Council resolutions, the negotiation and drafting of which was usually led by the UK.
During the negotiation of resolution 1284 (which we drafted), which established UNMOVIC, the question was discussed among the key Security Council members in great detail how long the inspectors would need in Iraq in order to form a judgement of Iraq's capabilities.
The UK and US pushed for the longest period we could get, on the grounds that the inspectors would need an extensive period in order to visit, inspect and establish monitoring at the many hundreds of possible WMD-related sites. The French and Russians wanted the shortest duration. After long negotiation, we agreed the periods specified in 1284. These require some explanation. The resolution states that the head of UNMOVIC should report on Iraq's performance 120 days once the full system of ongoing monitoring and verification had been established (OMV, in the jargon). OMV amounts to the "baseline" of knowledge of Iraq's capabilities and sites; we expected OMV to take up to six months to establish. In other words, inspectors would have to be on the ground for approximately ten months before offering an assessment. (Resolution 1441, though it requested Blix to "update" the Council 60 days after beginning inspections, did not alter the inspection periods established in 1284.) As is well-known, the inspectors were allowed to operate in Iraq for a much shorter period before the US and UK declared that Iraq's cooperation was insufficient.
Resolution 1441 did not alter the basic framework for inspections established by 1284. In particular, it did not amend the crucial premise of 1284 that any judgement of cooperation or non-cooperation by Iraq with the inspectors was to be made by the Council not UNMOVIC. Blix at no time stated unequivocally that Iraq was not cooperating with the inspectors. The Council reached no such judgement either.
Resolution 1441 did not authorise the use of force in case of non-cooperation with weapons inspectors. I was in New York, but not part of the mission, during the negotiation of that resolution (I was on Special Unpaid Leave from the FCO). My friends in other delegations told me that the UK sold 1441 in the Council explicitly on the grounds that it did not represent authorisation for war and that it "gave inspections a chance".
Later, after claiming that Iraq was not cooperating, the UK presented a draft resolution which offered the odd formulation that Iraq had failed to seize the opportunity of 1441. In negotiation, the UK conceded that the resolution amounted to authority to use force (there are few public records of this, but I was told by many former colleagues involved in the negotiation that this was the case). The resolution failed to attract support.
The UN charter states that only the Security Council can authorise the use of force (except in cases of self-defence). Reviewing these points, it is clear that in terms of the resolutions presented by the UK itself, the subsequent invasion was not authorised by the Security Council and was thus illegal. The clearest evidence of this is the fact that the UK sought an authorising resolution and failed to get it.
There is another subsidiary point on the legality question. During my spell at the UN, the UK and US would frequently have to defend in the Security Council attacks made by our aircraft in the No-Fly Zones (NFZs) in northern and southern Iraq. The NFZs were never authorised by the Security Council, but we would justify them on the grounds (as I recall it, this may be incorrect) that we were monitoring compliance with resolution 688 which called for the Iraqi government to respect the human rights of its people. If our aircraft bombed Iraqi targets, we were acting in self-defence (which was in fact the case as the Iraqis would try to shoot down our aircraft).
Reading the press in the months leading up to the war, I noticed that the volume and frequency of the attacks in the NFZs considerably increased, including during the period when UNMOVIC was in country inspecting sites (ie before even the UK/US declared that Iraq was not complying). I suspected at the time that these attacks were not in self-defence but that they were part of a planned air campaign to prepare for a ground invasion. There were one or two questions in Parliament about this when the Defence Secretary claimed that the NFZ attacks were, as before, self-defence. His account was refuted at the time by quotations by US officials in the press and by later accounts, including Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack", which confirmed that the attacks did indeed comprise a softening-up campaign, of which the UK was an active part.
3. Alternatives to war
I was responsible at the UK Mission for sanctions policy as well as weapons inspections. I had extensive contacts with those in the UN responsible for the oil-for-food programme, with NGOs active in Iraq, with experts in the oil industry and with many others who visited Iraq (I tried to visit on several occasions but was denied a visa by the Iraqi government). I read and analysed a great deal of material on Iraq's exports, both legal and illegal, sanctions and related subjects, such as the oil industry.
Much of my work and that of my close colleagues was devoted to attempting to stop countries breaching Iraqi sanctions. These breaches were many and took various forms.
The most serious was the illegal export of oil by Iraq through Turkey, Syria and Iranian waters in the Gulf. These exports were a substantial and crucial source of hard currency for the Iraqi regime; without them the regime could not have sustained itself or its key pillars, such as the Republican Guard. Estimates of the value of these exports ranged around $2 billion a year.
In addition, there were different breaches, such as Iraq's illegal and secret surcharge on its legal sales of oil through the UN. Iraq would levy illegal charges on oil-for-food contracts. The regime also had substantial financial assets held in secret overseas accounts. The details of these breaches and our work to combat them are complicated.
On repeated occasions, I and my colleagues at the mission (backed by some but not all of the responsible officials in London) attempted to get the UK and US to act more vigorously on the breaches. We believed that determined and coordinated action, led by us and the US, would have had a substantial effect in particular to pressure Iraq to accept the weapons inspections and would have helped undermine the Iraqi regime.
I proposed on several occasions the establishment of a multinational body (a UN body, if we could get the Security Council to agree it) to police sanctions busting. I proposed coordinated action with Iraq's neighbours to pressure them to help, including by controlling imports into Iraq. I held talks with a US Treasury expert on financial sanctions, an official who had helped trace and seize Milosevic's illegal financial assets. He assured me that, given the green light, he could quickly set up a team to target Saddam's illegal accounts.
These proposals went nowhere. Inertia in the FCO and the inattention of key ministers combined to the effect that the UK never made any coordinated and sustained attempt to address sanctions busting. There were sporadic and half-hearted initiatives. Bilateral embassies in Iraq's neighbours would always find a reason to let their hosts off the hook (the most egregious example was the Embassy in Ankara). Official visitors to the neighbours always placed other issues higher on the agenda. The Prime Minister, for example, visited Syria in early 2002. If I remember correctly, the mission sent a telegram beforehand urging him to press Assad on the illegal pipeline carrying Iraqi oil through Syria. I have seen no evidence that the subject was mentioned. Whenever I taxed Ministers on the issue, I would find them sympathetic but uninformed.
Coordinated, determined and sustained action to prevent illegal exports and target Saddam's illegal monies would have consumed a tiny proportion of the effort and resources of the war (and fewer lives), but could have provided a real alternative. It was never attempted.
9 June 2004