|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Blair’s WMD lies time-bomb
The recent revelations that Blair lied about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction shows the lengths the government went to in order to ensure Britain’s participation in the war against Iraq. JANE JAMES writes.
THE WMD LIES scandal has exposed divisions between the intelligence agencies and the government, the alarm among sections of the British ruling class at Blair’s ‘presidential-style’ of government, and the anger of ordinary workers at this government’s contempt for the truth.
The real motives for the war were nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) but about US control of Iraq’s oil resources and to strengthen their presence in the Middle East. Bush and Blair, however, needed a more compelling reason for war to win public support.
Three months after the end of the war, a new regime, the US army, now occupies Iraq with opposition growing against its rule. And no trace of WMDs have been found. As usual Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, has added to Blair’s problems. "We don’t know what happened. It is also possible that [Saddam] decided they would destroy them prior to a conflict", he said on May 28, raising the possibility that there are no weapons to be found. Then his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, revealed that WMDs were chosen as the main justification for war for ‘bureaucratic’ reasons, the best way to bring ‘doves’ like Colin Powell on board and publicly ‘legitimise’ it.
An almost open row then erupted between the intelligence agencies in Britain – particularly MI6 and GCHQ – and the government. Some government ministers blamed the quality of intelligence data provided while M16 and GCHQ retorted, through a series of leaks, that there never was conclusive intelligence evidence that Saddam had WMDs. Blair is probably the only person to still believe that Saddam could have activated such weapons within 45 minutes of an order being given.
Initially, Blair denied the need for an inquiry, but days later agreed to give evidence to the parliamentary intelligence security committee and conceded that the second government dossier on the case for war was flawed. Alistair Campbell, his director of strategy and communications, apologised to the head of the intelligence services, promising that their ‘reputation’ would never suffer again through the government distorting their information.
The emperor has no clothes
THE WMD LIES scandal has been compared to the Watergate scandal in America in the 1970s. The US ruling class then were worried that the presidency, in the person of Richard Nixon, was out of its control. The corrupt intrigues of Nixon were exposed and eventually, two years after the break-in at the Democratic Party’s Watergate HQ, Nixon resigned.
Blair is the first prime minister for nearly 50 years to have so blatantly distorted intelligence reports: since the 1956 Suez crisis when Anthony Eden ‘selected’ information to justify the calamitous Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt. Even Denis Healey, the former right-wing Labour chancellor, has called on Blair to resign if he ‘knowingly made false statements’.
Intelligence agencies reports in the past have only ever been given to high-placed ministers and the armed forces chiefs and not used in public dossiers, let alone distorted and exaggerated. The fact that they were used in this way shows how desperate Blair was to convince wavering MPs to back the war.
Bush faced a number of obstacles on his road to war. Some US administration figures were not convinced of the need to attack Iraq while some countries, including France and Russia, opposed his plans for their own interests. With mass worldwide protests growing, Bush attempted to get UN backing for war by insisting that WMDs in Iraq were a threat to other countries, which UN rules deem to be a ‘legitimate’ reason for war. Blair in particular faced unprecedented mass opposition on the streets in addition to ripples of opposition from his own MPs. The pressure was on to justify this war.
In September 2002, in the run-up to the Labour Party conference and a new session of parliament, Blair produced the first dossier. Even then it was clear that it contained no new intelligence but Blair insisted that Saddam had WMDs which could be activated in 45 minutes and would threaten other countries. (See box) The second dossier produced in February 2003 ‘mixed’ intelligence services material with analysis found on the internet from a Californian research student. It was widely ridiculed. Blair also linked Saddam to Al-Qaida and claimed that intelligence data (now known to have been forged) proved that Iraq was trying to procure uranium from Africa to develop nuclear weapons.
Under the strict definition of WMDs it is unlikely that Saddam ever had them. The UN weapons inspectors failed to find any after three-and-a-half months searching over 200 sites prior to the start of the war. The former foreign secretary Robin Cook, who resigned from the government over the war, stated that "a weapon of mass destruction in normal speech is a device capable of being delivered over a long distance and exterminating a strategic target such as a capital city. Saddam had neither a long-range missile system nor a warhead capable of mass destruction". Skilled scientists and engineers as well as advanced production equipment are needed to make such weapons. Since the 1991 Gulf war Iraq has been under continual US surveillance, who would have known of WMD production if it had been proceeding.
Hans Blix, the UN chief weapons inspector, has referred to elements in the US state department as ‘bastards’, accusing them of pressurising the weapons inspectors to exaggerate their findings. Even if some of these weapons are found now, there will be widespread belief that they were planted by the US (and, of course, it does not detract from the fact that there was no intelligence data prior to the war confirming their existence).
If Saddam had WMDs then why were they not used during the war? In fact the real danger from such materials is now being realised because of the bombing of Iraq and the ensuing events. Many Iraqis are reported to be suffering from radiation sickness caused by the looting of radioactive material from an atomic research centre in Tuwaitha. Cluster bombs dropped by Britain and the US are still killing and maiming Iraqi people.
Government minister John Reid claimed that the leaks from the intelligence agencies were from ‘rouge’ elements, insinuating that spies were plotting against this Labour government. It is known that MI5, Britain’s internal security service, had plotted against past Labour governments because they perceived them to be a threat to the capitalist system. Capitalism maintains its rule by using the state institutions, which include the tops of the civil servants, the government itself, the intelligence agencies and ultimately the police and army. MI5, MI6 and GCHQ are laws unto themselves and will always seek to undermine a government which could threaten the status quo. However, this Labour government has loyally obeyed the wishes of big business more than any other, in the process telling endless lies to workers: that tuition fees are needed to improve universities, that SATS are beneficial for children’s education, and that foundation hospitals will not mean a two-tier health service. When Blair lies to his own class, though, there is outrage from on high. These leaks from the intelligence agencies were never intended to protect the British people from a lying government but a warning to Blair not to get out of hand, or to undermine the secret service.
There is growing ruling class disquiet about the way Blair runs this government. One of the accusations to have come out of this affair is from foreign office diplomats complaining that their warnings of the consequences of the Iraq war were ignored and that Blair has centralised foreign policy with a rival diplomatic network in Number Ten. The ruling class demand that the government of the day does its bidding so will seek to avoid any prime minister restricting information and planning to a small clique.
THE RESPONSE OF Labour MPs to the WMD lies scandal has been timid. While Cook was always sceptical about WMDs, he says he still trusts Blair; while Clare Short, who belatedly resigned from the government, now claims she was ‘duped’ – along with some other MPs who voted for war. Only 11 Labour MPs voted against the government to support a Liberal Democrat call for a public inquiry, having been warned that to defeat Blair could cost Labour the next election.
A YouGov poll at the height of the revelations revealed that 63% believed Blair misled them over WMDs, with 27% accusing him of lying. The Tories were 1% behind Labour, the worst rating for Labour since the fuel protests in 2000. The Labour Party admitted in June that its membership is now below 250,000, its lowest level since Blair came to power six years ago when it was 405,238.
We can have no trust in the inquiries set up to investigate these allegations against Blair. The intelligence and security committee is appointed by and reports to the prime minister and meets in secret, while the foreign affairs select committee has limited access to information. Instead there should be an inquiry run by representatives of working-class people – the ranks of the trade unions, community organisations, other democratic bodies as well as representatives from the mass anti-war movement, with powers to investigate all areas.
Blair seems to be over this present crisis though there are bound to be more lies revealed as the inquires proceed. However, this affair has badly damaged him and his government. If the anger and hatred towards Blair felt by millions of people who are suffering from the policies of this government was channelled through a party committed to fighting for ordinary people then his days would be numbered. This is one more reason to make sure we campaign for a new party of the working class to replace New Labour and to change the whole corrupt system.
Truths and untruths
IN SEPTEMBER Blair presented a dossier to the House of Commons, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which set out the government’s case.
WMDs – an imminent threat?
IN THE forward to the dossier Blair states that evidence "discloses that military planning allows for some of the WMDs to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them", setting out to prove that not only did Iraq have WMDs but they were an imminent threat beyond its borders and therefore legitimised other countries protecting themselves by attacking Iraq.
* Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, explained that this claim was intelligence-based but that it came from a single source – believed to be an Iraqi scientist desperate to defect and therefore unreliable. Intelligence such as this is usually expected to be backed by two sources.
* Hans Blix, then the chief UN weapons inspector, has criticised the weak intelligence data that the US gave him to help the hunt for these weapons. Having been pointed to many sites and finding nothing relating to WMDs he recalled thinking, "my god, if this is the best intelligence they had and we find nothing, what about the rest?"
* The Pentagon Defence Intelligence Agency produced a report in September 2002 revealing that there was no reliable information that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons ready to use in battle.
THE DOSSIER claimed that there was intelligence data to prove that Iraq "has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium" from the African nation of Niger. Documents asserting this were used to convince wavering US Democrats of the imminent danger posed by Saddam.
* The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigated these documents and found very easily that they were forgeries. The Niger minister supposed to have signed them, for example, had been out of office since 1989. The IAEA also points out it would have been impossible for Iraq to have bought 500 tons of uranium from Niger as claimed, given the amount of uranium mined each year.
* An article in the May-June issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists by John Prados, a senior analyst at the US National Security Archive, concludes: "The CIA claimed to have discovered every facility that was part of the [Iraqi nuclear] program before the (last) Gulf war, and asserted that almost every facility was heavily damaged during that war. For the most part, what the bombs did not get, the inspectors did".
Biological & chemical weapons
AGAIN THE claim was that Iraq was involved in "recent production of chemical and biological agents", and "recent intelligence confirms that the Iraqi military have developed mobile facilities".
* The stockpile of chemical agents had fallen dramatically since the last Gulf war. The quality and longevity of these agents was also known by the CIA to be very poor. Consequently any chemical warfare capacity would have been extremely limited, with too few stocks for large-scale battlefield use.
* A British intelligence paper agreed with Iraq’s own estimation of its stock of anthrax and added that most likely no extra production had taken place between 1995 and 2003.
* Mobile laboratories for the production of biological agents could never have constituted a large-scale threat as suggested. The quality of such agents would be very poor as such conditions weigh against the facilities of a static industrial plant. The lorries which have been discovered after the war, which Blair still claims to be mobile laboratories, now appear not to be.
BLAIR’S DOSSIER argues that "Iraq wants to extend the range of its missile systems to over 1,000km".
* A US National Intelligence Estimate in a 2001 paper stated: "Most agencies… believe that Iraq is unlikely to test an intercontinental ballistic missile even if the UN prohibitions are lifted".
* The missiles that Saddam was trying to develop had flaws and poor performance results which were known due to CIA surveillance. Iraq agreed to destroy the missiles and had destroyed half of them before the war began.