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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April 2005, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Iraq, Tony & the Truth: Timeline

Iraq, Tony and the Truth
Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is convinced that he was right to invade Iraq. To do so, he needed the backing of Labour MPs. Two years on, Panorama tells the story of what Mr Blair did not reveal to them, and us, before sending British troops into battle.

This timeline includes the key documentary evidence used in the film, along with links to the Prime Minister's speeches. The leaked secret documents were obtained and published by The Daily Telegraph.

8 March 2002

A top secret government paper looks at the policy of regime change but cautions that there is not yet any legal justification. The paper advises that the only certain means of removing Saddam is by a massive ground invasion.

... against the background of our desire to re-integrate a law-abiding Iraq into the international community, we examine the two following policy options:

  • a toughening of the existing containment policy, facilitated by 11 September; and
  • regime change by military means: a new departure which would require the construction of a coalition and a legal justification.

    A full opinion should be sought from the Law Officers if the above options are developed further. But in summary CONTAINMENT generally involves the implementation of existing UNSCRs [United Nations Security Council Resolutions] and has a firm legal foundation. Of itself, REGIME CHANGE has no basis in international law.

    Despite sanctions, Iraq continues to develop WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction], although our intelligence is poor. Saddam has used WMD in the past and could do so again if his regime was threatened, though there is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD.

    All options have lead times. If an invasion is contemplated this autumn, then a decision will need to be taken in principle six months in advance...

    Defence and Overseas Secretariat (ODSEC), Iraq: Options Paper, marked "Secret UK Eyes Only"

    14 March 2002

    The dimensions of a new policy on Iraq become clearer - the Prime Minister will 'not budge' in his support for regime change, writes his senior foreign policy advisor:

    I had dinner with Condi [Condoleezza Rice, then US National Security Advisor] on Tuesday; and talks and lunch with her and an NSC [National Secutiry Council] team on Wednesday (to which Christopher Meyer also came).

    We spent a long time at dinner on IRAQ. It is clear that Bush is grateful for your support and has registered that you are getting flak. I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States. And you would not budge either in your insistence that, if we pursued regime change, it must be very carefully done and produce the right result. Failure was not an option.

    David Manning to the Prime Minister, marked "Secret - Strictly Personal"

    18 March 2002

    The British Ambassador in Washington outlines the new Iraq strategy - the government will need a "clever" plan to convince the public and parliament of the threat from Saddam. Regime change would be a "tough sell" in Britain.

    Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, came to Sunday lunch on 17 March.

    ... the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option.
    Sir Christopher Meyer, British Ambassador in Washington
    On Iraq I opened by sticking very closely to the script that you used with Condi Rice last week. We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option. It would be a tough sell for us domestically, and probably tougher elsewhere in Europe. The US could go it alone if it wanted to. But if it wanted to act with partners, there had to be a strategy for building support for military action against Saddam. I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN SCRs [Security Council Resolutions] and the critical importance of the MEPP [Middle East Peace Process] as an integral part of the anti-Saddam strategy.

    If the UK were to join the US in any operation against Saddam, we would have to be able to take a critical mass of parliamentary and public opinion with us.

    Christopher Meyer to Sir David Manning, marked "Confidential and Personal"

    What the papers said

    The public campaign gets underway, with newspapers reporting the threat from Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and promising revelations in a government dossier, to be released shortly.

    Whitehall warns attack on Saddam would be illegal
    Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's communications chief, told American reporters last week that a dossier of allegations compiled by Whitehall and the intelligence services would be presented publicly before Blair's visit to America on April 5. The dossier would prove, sources in London said, that Saddam is manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.

    (Sunday Times, 24 March 2002)

    MI6 has handed Tony Blair a report showing the full extent of Saddam Hussein's devastating arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.
    The Prime Minister is set to use the 'dossier of death' to convince Britain to join the US in attacking Iraq.

    (Daily Mirror, 12 March 2002)

    22 March 2002

    At the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) the Political Director, Peter Ricketts, expresses his relief at the postponement of the dossier's publication. He advises the Foreign Secretary that the "truth" is that "the pace of Saddam's WMD programme" had not "changed."

    I am relieved that you decided to postpone publication of the unclassified document. My meeting yesterday showed that there is more work to do to ensure that the figures are accurate and consistent with those of the US. But even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW [chemical weapons/biological weapons] fronts: The programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.

    The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes...
    Peter Ricketts
    The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes, but our tolerance of them post-11 September. This is not something we need to be defensive about, but attempts to claim otherwise publicly will increase scepticism about our case.

    Letter from Peter Ricketts to Jack Straw

    25 March 2002

    In a leaked letter to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary backs up the need for a legal justification for regime change.

    There is no doubt that a new UNSCR [UN Security Council Resolution] would transform the climate in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party].

    regime change per se is no justification for military action: it could form part of the method of any strategy, but not a goal. Of course, we may want credibly to assert that regime change is an essential part of the strategy by which we have to achieve our ends - that of the elimination of Iraq's WMD capacity: but the latter has to be the goal.

    Jack Straw to Tony Blair, marked "Secret & Personal"

    6 April 2002

    The Prime Minister meets President Bush at his ranch in Crawford. Tony Blair is guarded about how the threat should be dealt with. He says the matter is "open". President Bush is more direct.

    Tony Blair
    You know it has always been our policy that Iraq would be a better place without Saddam... how we now proceed in this situation, how we make sure that this threat that is posed by weapons of mass destruction is dealt with, that is a matter that is open. And when the time comes for taking those decisions we will tell people about those decisions.

    President Bush
    Maybe I should be a little less direct and be a little more nuanced and say we support regime change

    Joint press conference at Crawford, USA

    16 July 2002

    During the summer, the Prime Minister talks about the threat from Iraq, but says that no decisions have been made.

    Mr Blair:
    ... I think they pose an enormous threat to the world. How we deal with that, however, is an open question. That is why I say constantly to people there are no decisions which have been made in relation to Iraq at all.

    "Are we then preparing for possible military action in Iraq?"

    Mr Blair:
    No, there are no decisions which have been taken about military action.

    Tony Blair at the House of Commons Liaison Committee

    23 July 2002

    The Prime Minister chaired a highly sensitive meeting. Panorama has been told that Sir Richard Dearlove, head of the Secret Intelligence Service, was minuted as saying that "the facts and the intelligence" were being "fixed round the policy" by the Bush Administration. By fixed, he meant the Americans were trawling for evidence to reinforce their claim that Iraq was a threat.

    The Foreign Secretary also attended the meeting, and, we understand, questioned whether the threat from Iraq was sufficient to justify invasion.

    August 2002

    In August there are hints from the Bush administration that they are counting on British support for regime change:

    ... let there be no mistake... our policy... insists on regime change in Baghdad and that policy will not be altered whether the inspectors go in or not... we are content that at the appropriate moment we will have the requisite degree of international support.

    [Question from John Humphries] "But if you don't have it, and all the indications are that at the moment you won't, then what?"

    We will have it Mr Humphries.

    US Under Secretary of State, John Bolton on the BBC's Today programme, 3 August 2002

    Our European allies are just not relevant to this. And the one of some importance, the United Kingdom, is, I believe, going to be with us.

    Richard Perle, US Defence Policy Board. ABC "This Week", 18 August 2002

    The Foreign Secretary flew to America to interrupt the holiday of the US Secretary of State Colin Powell. We understand Jack Straw complained: "You've outed us." He said the British government had yet to prepare public opinion.

    7 September 2002

    On a visit to the Presidential retreat at Camp David, the Prime Minister pledges his support for the US policy.

    ... the President actually said to the Prime Minister's aides 'Your man has cojones'... a Spanish term for male courage... I asked the President about this: 'Did the Prime Minister say 'I will supply troops'? And the President said 'yes' and that he would be with the President in going to the UN to seek a new weapons inspection resolution.

    Bob Woodward interview with Jim Naughtie, 20 April 2004, describing events at Camp David

    12 September 2002

    Mr Blair was briefed about all the main sources providing intelligence from Iraq by the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Richard Dearlove. It was just days before the Prime Minister presented the dossier to Parliament.

    Sir Richard told Mr Blair that there were two new sources. One of whom was claiming to know where chemical agent was being produced but he was untried and untested.

    The second new source was linked to an Iraqi opposition group with an obvious interest in toppling Saddam.

    Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) had only three other main sources - and Mr Blair was told their reports were not that worrying or hearsay.

    24 September 2002

    A key part of the "clever" plan was to alert the public and parliament to the threat from Iraq's WMD. The Prime Minister tells Parliament that Iraq's WMD programme is "active, detailed and growing". Launching the government's dossier on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, Tony Blair says "the intelligence picture... is extensive, detailed and authoritative."

    For the preparation of the dossier we had a real concern not to exaggerate the intelligence that we had received
    Tony Blair, to Parliament on the September 2002 Iraq dossier
    His WMD programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The WMD programme is not shut down. It is up and running.

    The intelligence picture they [the intelligence services] paint is one accumulated over the past four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative.

    For the preparation of the dossier we had a real concern not to exaggerate the intelligence that we had received. For obvious reasons, it is difficult to reflect the credibility of the information, and we rate the credibility of what we have very highly. I say no more than that.

    Prime Minister's statement to Parliament on the launch of the government's dossier

    The Prime Minister states in the foreword of the dossier that it is "beyond doubt" that Saddam is producing chemical and biological weapons:

    What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.

    According to the Butler Report...

    However, the Butler Review later paints a different picture of the accumulated intelligence on Iraq's WMD, stating that

    ... we were struck by the relative thinness of the intelligence base.

    The Butler Report, paragraph 304

    And the Butler Review reveals for the first time what the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) was saying about the limits of available intelligence.

    Intelligence remains limited and Saddam's own unpredictability complicates judgements about Iraqi use of these weapons. Much of this paper is necessarily based on judgement and assessment.

    JIC, 9 September 2002, Butler Report, paragraph 295

    Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programmes is sporadic and patchy. Iraq is also well practised in the art of deception, such as concealment and exaggeration. A complete picture of the various programmes is therefore difficult.

    JIC, 15 March 2002, Butler Report, paragraph 270

    We have little intelligence on Iraq's CBW [Chemical and Biological Weapons] doctrine and know little about Iraq's CBW work since late 1998

    JIC, 21 August 2002, Butler Report, paragraph 292

    8 November 2002

    In early November, the UK and US secure the passage of a tough new UN Resolution on Iraq's WMD. They subsequently argue that Resolution 1441 gives them the right to invade if they decided that Saddam's co-operation with weapons inspectors is less than 100%.

    7 March 2003
    Peter Goldsmith, Attorney General
    The Attorney General leaving Downing Street

    The government tries for a second UN Resolution that includes a deadline for full Iraqi compliance.

    The Attorney General's initial advice, of 7 March, has never been released - but Panorama understands that it raises possibility of prosecution in an international court, without a second resolution.

    10 March 2003

    Arguing that the inspection process has not had enough time to disarm Iraq, the French President says at the moment he will veto a second Resolution.

    "My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, France will vote 'no'... because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, i.e. to disarm Iraq."

    "In that case it will be for the Security Council - and it alone - to decide the right thing to do. But in the case, of course, regrettably, the war would become inevitable. It isn't today."
    Jacques Chirac, interviewed on French television station TF1

    12 March 2003

    The Sun newspaper steps up its campaign against the French President.

    Like a cheap tart who puts price before principle, money before honour, Jacques Chirac struts the streets of shame.

    Once this war is over, there will be debts to be settled. We will never forgive the French, the Russians or Labour's wimps. Like all who ply the trade of the harlot, they will catch something very nasty.

    14 March 2003

    To ascertain whether Iraq is in "further material breach", as required by UNSCR 1441, the Attorney General turns to the Prime Minister for confirmation of the interpretation of the evidence .

    The Attorney General understands that it is unequivocally the Prime Minister's view that Iraq has committed further material breaches as specified in paragraph 4 of resolution 1441, but as this is a judgement for the Prime Minister, the Attorney would be grateful for confirmation that this is the case

    Letter from the Attorney General to Number 10, quoted in the Butler Report, paragraph 383

    15 March 2003
    The Prime Minister's office writes to confirm that he is correct in his understanding.

    It is indeed the Prime Minister's unequivocal view that Iraq is in further material breach.

    Letter from Number 10 to the Attorney General, quoted in the Butler Report, paragraph 383

    17 March 2003

    The Attorney General's legal justification is then presented to Parliament and the public. But the text is missing any caveat, including the risk of legal proceedings against Britain, which Panorama understands was contained in his earlier advice.

    Authority to use force against Iraq exists from the combined effect of resolutions 678, 687 and 1441. All of these resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which allows the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security.

    Resolution 1441 would in terms have provided that a further decision of the Security Council to sanction force was required if that had been intended. Thus, all that resolution 1441 requires is reporting to and discussion by the Security Council of Iraq's failures, but not an express further decision to authorise force.

    Attorney General's advice on Iraq, presented to Parliament and the Cabinet

    18 March 2003

    The Prime Minister opens the crucial debate on Iraq in the House of Commons. During the debate, Mr Blair claims that, but for the French, Britain would have won a majority in the Security Council for war. He tells the Commons that

    "Last Monday, we were getting very close with it. We very nearly had majority agreement."

    And he sets out the central justification for war: The need to uphold the will of the United Nations.

    ... the United Kingdom must uphold the authority of the United Nations as set out in Resolution 1441 and many Resolutions preceding it, and therefore... should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

    Tony Blair in the Commons

    20 March 2003
    The Prime Minister gives the order for British troops to invade Iraq arguing that

    Dictators like Saddam, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, threaten the very existence of such a world. That is why I have asked our troops to go into action tonight.

    July 2003

    The Secret Intelligence Service begins to review evidence from one of its five main sources on Iraq¿s WMD. The intelligence, from a "new source on trial" is withdrawn by 29 July. The Butler report later reveals that this source had provided

    "Significant assurance to those drafting the Government's dossier that active, current production of chemical and biological agent was taking place."
    The Butler Report, paragraph 405

    14 July 2004

    Responding to the Butler Review, the Prime Minister is unequivocal, stating that

    No one lied. No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services. Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. That issue of good faith should now be at an end.

    13 October 2004

    The Prime Minister continues to deny any deception in relation to British policy on Iraq.

    I take full responsibility and, indeed, apologise for any information given in good faith that has subsequently turned out to be wrong... I do not accept in any way that there was any deception of anyone. That has been looked into by four separate independent inquiries, and in each case the allegation has been found to be wrong.

    I cannot bring myself to say that I misrepresented the evidence because I do not accept that I did

    Prime Minister to the House of Commons

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