Sunday, March 30, 2008


British army joins battle to control Basra

Artillery attack on Mahdi army position in the city was 'something we were always prepared to do'

Mark Townsend and Gaby Hinsliff The Observer, Sunday March 30 2008


Meanwhile, it has emerged that the British government is to defy an order to publish confidential minutes of cabinet discussions on Iraq that could shed new light on Gordon Brown's opinions in the run-up to the war. The Cabinet Office confirmed that it is appealing against last month's ruling by the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, that it must release records of two crucial cabinet meetings that were held in the critical days before the invasion. Opposition MPs had hoped that the notes would reveal the advice received about the legality of the war, but also precisely what Brown - then Chancellor of the Exchequer - said about military action.

There have been conflicting accounts of Brown's views. The late Robin Cook described him as making a 'long and passionate statement of support' for Tony Blair's strategy, while David Blunkett suggested in his memoirs that Brown came on board at the last minute after realising Blair might sack him.

Ministers are expected to argue to the information tribunal that cabinet decision-making would be compromised if they could not hold frank and private discussions and minutes should normally be exempt from freedom of information laws. The move comes days after Brown said he would hold an inquiry into how Britain went to war, but not while UK troops were in action, which could delay it until after the next election.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, said the latest decision was part of a clear pattern over Iraq: 'They have obfuscated and put barriers in the way of truth about the war from day one, and it does leave the impression they have got something to hide.' While cabinet notes are only a partial record of conversations, he said releasing the March 2003 minutes would have held at least 'the potential that it might show what Gordon Brown said'.

The appeal against the release of cabinet minutes will be controversial because Cook, Blunkett, Clare Short and Alastair Campbell have all picked over the private discussions on Iraq in their respective memoirs.

PM's claim rejected

Former defence chiefs reject claim soldiers do not want Iraq inquiry

By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Gordon Brown's claim that an inquiry into the war in Iraq would be a "distraction" for Britain's troops on the ground has been repudiated by some of the country's former defence chiefs.

The Prime Minister said an inquiry should take place when the soldiers' "work is over", although ministers have denied that means when the last British soldier has left Iraq.

But a number of Britain's former leading defence figures have rejected the Prime Minister's warnings that to hold an investigation now would undermine the troops, and supported the demands for an urgent inquiry into the war. Among them is Field Marshal Lord Bramall, who commanded British forces during the Falklands War.

The Government defeated demands in the Commons by Liberal Democrats and Conservative MPs for an inquiry this week, although 12 Labour MPs rebelled.

Gordon Brown has promised an inquiry but said now was not the time. Lord Bramall accused the Prime Minister of delaying it for political reasons.

"I don't think having an inquiry now would be a distraction. I think it is such a political hot potato the Government is not going to want it before the next election," he said. "There are two issues which people want to know about – why was there no planning for the aftermath of the war and how did we get involved in the first place."

Lord Bramall, who was opposed to the war, said that the Prime Minister failed properly to consult the chiefs of staff or his cabinet colleagues before supporting President George Bush in going to war.

"We now know that the prime minister didn't consult anybody in his own Cabinet before we were committed to war, and the Americans decided it as a reflex action to 9/11."

Lord Craig of Radley, the former air marshal of the RAF, backed Lord Bramall's demand for an immediate inquiry.

"I think it is very timely to have an inquiry before memories fade," said Lord Craig. "The fact that there remain some British troops still in Iraq – they are in an 'overwatch' role and not actively engaged – should not delay it.

Lord Craig said he did not agree that an inquiry would prove a distraction. "I would personally like to see an inquiry because I think there are lessons to be learnt. I do not think that it would be a distraction at all. The issue is about how we got involved in the war."

He said any inquiry would not involve those now on the ground in Iraq. "It would involve those who were involved in the decision at the most senior levels. The issue is how did we get into it, and what arrangements were made for after the invasion?"

The former head of the RAF rejected the assertion by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, that an inquiry now would affect soldiers "psychologically".

"I don't think an inquiry would have any psychological impact on the troops," said Lord Craig.

General Sir Mike Jackson also supported an inquiry. He said: "As I said in my book, it is a political decision at the end of the day but in the long run it would probably be a good thing."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman yesterday said that Mr Brown remained of the view that an inquiry now would be a "distraction", in spite of the calls by the defence chiefs.

In a letter to the Fabian Society, which had earlier asked him to hold a public inquiry, Mr Brown wrote: "There will come a time when it is appropriate to hold an inquiry. But while the whole effort of the Government and the armed forces is directed towards supporting the people and government of Iraq as they forge a future based on reconciliation, democracy, prosperity and security, we believe that is not now."

Friday, March 28, 2008

That this House calls...

House of Commons debates (Crown Copyright Acknowledged)

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Opposition Day — [8th Allotted Day]

Iraq Inquiry

4.30 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con):
I beg to move,

That this House calls for an inquiry by an independent committee of privy councillors to review the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in relation to Iraq, and all matters relevant thereto, in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and its aftermath and to make recommendations on lessons to be drawn for the future.

The passing of the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war brings us naturally to consider once again the need for a high-level and wide-ranging inquiry into its origin and conduct. When we last debated the issue on 11 June last year, I think it is fair to say that a consensus emerged across the House that such an inquiry would be necessary at some point. Those of us who voted for the invasion of 2003, just as much as those who voted against it, expressed the view that the length of the conflict, the difficult and controversial nature of the decisions leading up to it, the extreme difficulties encountered afterwards, and the sheer immensity of the decision and of its consequences were all so great that a major inquiry would be unavoidable. The Government accepted that argument in principle, but argued that the appropriate time had not been reached.

The case that I wish to put to the House is that the nation expects, our troops deserve, and the facts lead to a fresh conclusion that the time to commence such an inquiry has now been reached. The passage of time, the urgent need to learn for the future, the need to reinforce the credibility of future decision taking, and the diminished role in Iraq of British forces all point to that clear conclusion...

Monday, March 24, 2008



'The Germans Share in the Responsibility'

As Colin Powell's chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson helped the former US Secretary of State make the case for the invasion of Iraq. But much of that case was based on false information. SPIEGEL spoke with Wilkerson about Germany's share of the guilt and the failures of the CIA

SPIEGEL: It was five years ago that Colin Powell gave his speech before the United Nations Security Council. How do you see that speech from the perspective of today?

Wilkerson: I can remember the whole day very well. It was a terribly cold day, and I remember leaving the UN being dead tired on my feet. I just walked around for a few minutes and thought 'that was a total failure.' His appearance at the Security Council was the first time I heard the entire speech, uninterrupted, from A to Z. The whole time I looked over at the Iraqi ambassador and I thought to myself: 'Jeez, this is all circumstantial bullshit, it will never wash.' After I had gotten some sleep and then read a few newspapers, I realized the polls were saying it had been significantly effective. I’ve had ample opportunity to spend a lot of time researching that time now at the university where I teach and I’m back to what I thought that day. But it is even worse, that morning was the lowest point of my professional life.

SPIEGEL: You were intimately involved in the preparation of the speech. How important was the information that came from 'Curveball?'

Wilkerson: It was absolutely essential because it was the central pillar for the accusation that Saddam Hussein had mobile biological labs. And that claim was one of the pillars of the whole speech, next to the claim that the aluminum tubes were for an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program and next to the claim that there were close ties between al-Qaida and Baghdad. Both points were found to be as wrong as claims about biological weapons.

SPIEGEL: Were you aware that the CIA had huge doubts about 'Curveball' and his information prior to the war, and that the CIA had never actually spoken to the source?

Wilkerson: That’s the point. We were never told that the information originated in Germany. The CIA simply failed to tell us that. The CIA Director George Tenet and his team presented to us the information about mobile biological weapons labs as iron clad, absolutely confirmed intelligence coming from four separate sources who independently corroborated one another. One intelligence analyst told me off line that the most important source was an individual, an Iraqi engineer who had been turned and that he was an eyewitness to a deadly accident as a result of biological agents produced in the lab. There was not a word of doubt from anyone. And I blame the CIA for that to this day.

SPIEGEL: Didn't the intelligence community have an opportunity to express their doubts to you?

Wilkerson: An opportunity? There was ample opportunity. We sat with them for five days and nights nights, 24 hours a day, we were embedded with them in the days before the speech. Not one person whispered a word of doubt or anything in that direction.

SPIEGEL: When did you finally hear that there were serious problems with 'Curveball?'

Wilkerson: That was much later -- it was in August or September 2003. The CIA believed in the mobile biological weapons labs until the very last minute. I can remember when the call came. Secretary of State Powell and I had adjoining offices. He stood suddenly at my door and looked into my office and said, ‘well, now the CIA has admitted the mobile labs were probably a false case.’ Looking rather dejected he just went back into his office.

SPIEGEL: What did you think?

Wilkerson: I just thought, that’s it. I wanted to resign. It wasn’t the first time the CIA withdrew information. The other major claims of the speech, like the aluminum tubes and the significant connection to al-Qaida were all proven false. I had my resignation letter typed out, it was sitting in the center desk drawer. I would regularly take it out, look at it, and massage it a bit and that’s what I did on that day. I wish now I had submitted my resignation on that day.

SPIEGEL: Since then you’ve spent a lot of time examining the period leading up to the war and have even done some research of your own. What is your appraisal of the role played by the Germans?

Wilkerson: I can’t exclude the Germans completely here from their share of guilt. They share in the responsibility. They did not just send their information about 'Curveball' as a chance operation. It was carefully considered what they sent to us, each and every word was weighed very carefully. The Germans did not want to injure the relationship between German and American intelligence because they were very interested in maintaining their access to American intelligence information. Let’s not be naïve here. There is real trade in intelligence information and all of our allies are dependent on the United States for certain intelligence information, for example satellite imagery and wiretaps. No one wants to endanger that access. If they don’t appear cooperative, if they don’t give us some good juicy stuff every once in a while, then they won’t be getting all the good stuff from us.

SPIEGEL: But are you saying that the Germans oversold and sexed up the information provided by 'Curveball?'

Wilkerson: I will leave that judgment to others. In the United States, former CIA chief George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin should bare the burden for the major part of the blame. Not only can they be criticized for uncritically using the German information about 'Curveball,' but they also ignored signals of caution and warning from their own community -- CIA head of operations in Europe Tyler Drumheller comes to mind. It was their responsibility to inform our Secretary of State about the warnings they had heard. Apparently they lacked the courage. Instead of presenting their doubts, they presented the information to us as if it was iron clad infallible evidence.

SPIEGEL: Do you feel that you made mistakes?

Wilkerson: Of course. It still makes me feel even worse when I just think about it because I was a part of it. Back then I felt I had done a bad job. Everything happened too fast, it was too hurried, everything was jammed through. Why did we agree that Powell would do the UN presentation? Why didn’t we insist that the US Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte do the presentation -- just like Adlai Stevenson during the Cuban Missile Crisis? That all came together and I even began to regret it back then. But I also know -- what were we supposed to do? We were dependent on the information of the intelligence services.

SPIEGEL: Do you ever think that Powell was set up?

Wilkerson: Well I am increasingly convinced that, for a part of the Bush administration, the argument “weapons of mass destruction” was just a camouflage, just subterfuge for their real goals and reasons of the war.

SPIEGEL: What are they?

Wilkerson: I am convinced that the vast oil resources of Iraq weigh heavier for me now when I do the strategic analysis as reasons for the war than I thought back then.

SPIEGEL: Who do you mean specifically? George W. Bush?

Wilkerson: I am not sure. But I would be very interested to look at the documents chronicling Dick Cheney’s pre-war conversations with leading figures of the energy business and with oil magnates. Maybe one day historians will be able to get their hands on those documents and come to a judgment about that -- if and when the classified documents become open to the public.

Interview conducted by John Goetz and Marcel Rosenbach,1518,542881,00.html

Monday, March 03, 2008

No knowledge

From Hansard (Crown Copyright acknowledged):

28 Feb 2008 : Column 1817W

Iraq: Weapons

Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which individuals made which annotations on the hard copy of the John Williams draft of the 2002 Iraq dossier. [188515]

David Miliband [holding answer of 22 February 2008]: We do not know who authored the annotations, and hold no record on this.