A False yet Beneficial Prospectus?

Perhaps it is odd that there was a war against Iraq. Countries have dealt with dictators when geopolitical demands have demanded it. This brutal regime was once seen as a check on Iran: its war on Iran, regarded as more threatening than Iraq, diverted that new Shi'ite Islamic country's development. Also Saddam Hussein used Islam but had little truck with religious extremism and no bases for al-Qaida. But Saddam had invaded Kuwait, and had been ejected, and once ejected had to follow steps of compliance to the United Nations. Believed it was treated lightly after its defeat, it did not co-operate with the UN, and the regime took over from Libya as the primary irritant country of the region, an itch that demanded a huge scratch.

In March 2003 the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, launching from Kuwait, a state liberated from Iraqi occupation in 1991. Kurdish forces co-ordinated by the coalition came from the north. Smart missiles launched from naval ships and air power hit key command and control buildings in major cities, especially Baghdad, but the Iraqi defence system was already incredibly weak. Nevertheless sections of the military and especially regime elements in the defence forces put up a greater resistance than expected. Local populations, wise after the events of 1991, did not rise up this time: in 1991 they expected foreign help, received none and were persecuted by the Iraqi regime so that this time they let the invading military do all the work. In any case, whilst the allies invaded, they were still under repressive Iraqi regime control. When the regime was toppled many citizens seemed genuinely pleased that the regime was gone, although the failure to capture key members of the regime made just as many wary. This was a country where people had said and did nothing that drew attention to themselves.

The two principal warring partners became the occupying regime, with the British located in the south around Basra. There is no doubt that the British ran their sector more successfully than the Americans. The British drew on two experiences: the first was the colonial past of actually running the detail of regimes at a distance, so that almost immediately local people were brought into consultative structures and were given a sense of involvement. The second experience was control in Northern Ireland, extended to peacekeeping in Kosovo. The Americans, on the other hand, had a history in Vietnam of rough treatment to local populations and little in the way of direct contact with populations.

Very soon resistance took place to the occupying powers, which extended to those Iraqis in the police supporting the occupying powers in the transition process to resuming national sovereignty. The resulting terrorism had different aspects: Bathist and some Islamic, home grown and foreign.

The plan was to lead to elections but this was converted into developing an interim constitution with a transitional council in charge taking to itself the sovereignty of the nation before elections. This transfers sovereignty earlier but runs the risk of the country factionalising into its various nationalist, ethnic, political and religious elements previously held together under the cruelties of the Bathist regime. Speeding up the transferring of sovereignty may have been done to take away justification of local resistance against occupying powers. It also means that sovereignty is handed over before the United States presidential election where President Bush attempts to be elected for a second and final term.

As well as setting up structures to resume national sovereignty, large reconstruction processes were put into place, paid for by the United States government, with the vast share of contracts going to United States registered companies. Getting the oil flowing was important to generate revenue (pipelines have however been subjected to repeated attacks). Companies of countries which opposed the invasion were specifically excluded from bidding for contracts.

The public reason for war with presentations by dossiers to the British public and presentations to the United Nations, co-ordinated by both governments, was the present and real threat of weapons of mass destruction. There had been a string of resolutions demanding Iraq declare and destroy its weapons of mass destruction following the Kuwait invasion, but there was no "second resolution" to expressly sanction war. In this country the Attorney General is said to have advised the government that war was legal based on the string of resolutions in the United Nations; it is also suggested that he changed his mind and had considered the war might be illegal.

Other reasons for war included "regime change", given in America, but only after the event by the British government, to remove an apparently uniquely odious regime. Tony Blair has pointed out with some frequency that the conflict was worth the regime's removal to improve the lives of its citizens. ANother reason given was to counter terrorism where the United States linked Iraq to al-Qaida, but the British have not made this link and indeed the British were warned by its own security assessment that war could increase not decrease the risk of terrorism.

Other reasons are linked to the agenda of President Bush and members of his administration like Donald Rumsfeld. It is not simply that Bush junior wanted to finish a war that Bush senior as US President had "started", but also that there was an assassination attempt linked the Iraqis against George Bush senior. More politically, changing the regime in Iraq was a way for the United States to promote its "full spectrum dominance" across the globe, and to have a further client state in the Middle East that would further shift the balance of power: the other client states being (at least) Kuwait and Israel. There would be less dependence (for oil certainly, but also as a regional power) on the Saudi Arabians, a monarchy plastered on top of a Wahabi (strict Islamic reformists - equivalent to one time British Puritans) society. The Americans have removed troops from Saudi Arabia, a one time demand of al-Qaida.

One criticism of the war is the claim that it was illegal because of (at least) the failure to get a resolution specifically to sanction war. Another was not only had it failed to stop terrorism, but it gave further incentive for people to be recruited as terrorists (and led to more repressive security conscious measures in Western countries). No weapons of mass production have been found, itself a criticism. In all probability people reported up to Saddam Hussein a military and weapons development greater than was the case in order to placate him. Western intelligence failed to understand the difference between the internal say so of having powerful weapons and the actuality. There was never a present and immediate threat to Western countries. Weapons may have been used in the past, but the country had laboured under sanctions for twelve years. Its basic civic infrastructure was in a very poor condition.

In the United Kingdom there have been several inquiries since the Iraq war. The most notorious was The Hutton Inquiry. An Iraq weapons specialist, Dr David Kelly, had spoken to two journalists Andrew Gilligan and Susan Watts, both of the BBC, off the record, and had used his weapons expertise to cast doubt on the government claim that weapons of mass destruction could be launched at British interests in 45 minutes. Gilligan reported in one Today broadcast that the 45 minutes claim was made by Downing Street probably knowing it was wrong. In the Mail on Sunday Gilligan went on to say that David Kelly had named (Alistair) Campbell as the person who had inserted the 45 minute claim. The Hutton Report showed that the single BBC radio report was itself sexed up, although the Inquiry showed the extent of Downing Street involvement in the presentation of certainty where there had been doubt. The Inquiry however was not about the war and its causes but simply about the circumstances around the death of the government scientist, who killed himself having become exposed to the press and the House of Commons, and who had denied in the House of Commons what he had said to Susan Watts for which she had transcripts and who therefore was ready to reveal her source. So Kelly was himself attending that House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry, which subsequently has had its actual ignorance displayed, and there was another later secret inquiry set up, with and then without official Conservative support, which took up the issue of intelligence failures.

The intelligence agencies themselves seemed eager to please their own political masters: the Hutton Inquiry found that British Intelligence approved of changes made by the Number 10 office to make the second dossier lose its ifs and buts and emphasise the nature of the threat, including the 45 minutes launch time of weaponry of mass destruction. This intelligence, a single source, was only for battlefield weapons, and no one corrected the press that interpreted this from the dossier as a real and present threat to Cyprus (British bases) or even the UK. The first dossier presented by the government, of course, was a rehash of a twelve year old Ph.D. with some extra content. Thus a second dossier was needed, which created all the trouble around David Kelly.

In the end, the Prime Minister made a decision with most of the cabinet to support the American decision to go to war, and he became a salesperson for that decision using his powers of persuasion and that of the government machine. Others in the cabinet like Robin Cook and (later) Clare Short took a different view.

That the United States might have carried out some of its political objectives by invading Libya instead has led Colonel Gaddafi to weigh the balance and give up his far less developed weapons and programmes. He has settled most outstanding problems to release his oil to Western development. His change of stance is offered as a success due to waging the war, but both the more complex political society of Iran and the deeper Stalinist regime of North Korea need not necessarily follow on in terms of compliance regarding weapons of mass destruction.

The further argument here is that anti-terrorist action is necessarily small scale, careful, monitoring of groups who are more likely to use knives and nitrogen fertiliser than sophisticated programmes of creating weaponry. Also terrorism is fed by political instability, and the key issue remains the imbalance of power and treatment of the Israelis and the Palestinians. Making Iraq a state of Western sympathy alongside Kuwait may not make any difference, assuming this is the policy and it remains successful. There has been no domino effect of Arab states becoming reformed.

Approaches to a Debate:

The motion

This house believes that the United Kingdom went to war on a false prospectus.

Prospectus in this sense means the catalogue of presented reasons by which Parliament made up its mind to support going to war.

The debate must be informed: using real arguments of some detail. The discussion should be one to one and in a group/ in groups. Questions to debate can be worked out one to one in terms of importance, either deciding from the whole text or choosing amongst questions to debate (below).

Questions to debate

  1. Was the United States obsessed with Saddam Hussein, a man yet once seen as a Western ally especially compared with revolutionary Iran?
  2. Did the end, the removal of a cruel regime, justify the means of going war?
  3. Were the two dossiers in the United Kingdom and the presentation by Colin Powell, the United States Secretary of State, to the United Nations, given in good faith on the basis of false intelligence or were they acts of deliberately misleading presentation?
  4. Was the report by Andrew Gilligan essentially right or sexed up to a point of being inadequte? How did his reporting on the BBC compare with press reporting?
  5. Has the United Kingdom set up a proper inquiry into the reasons for going to war?
  6. Was there a failure of intelligence, a deception of political presentation, or both?
  7. What is the relationship between the war in Iraq and counteracting terrorism?
  8. What is the relationship between aspects of Islam and terrorism, Islam and Saddam Hussein and would it ever be possible for terrorists to refer to Christianity so overtly to cause death and destruction?


Adrian Worsfold