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The Absence of Truth – Government Propaganda and the War on Iraq

Produced by Alan Simpson MP and Dr. Glen Rangwala for Labour Against the War, 3 July 2003

LATW believes the war on Iraq was launched on the basis of deceit, with claims about weapons used to provide the justification for an invasion that was already settled policy. The fact that there appears to have been no extensive programme for the development of these weapons, nor the stockpiling of large quantities of those weapons, should indicate how British policy towards Iraq was misguided in its overt purpose and misleading in its presentation.

The government released two dossiers on Iraq to make its case for war. The first one, "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction: the assessment of the British government", was released to much fanfare, on 24 September 2002. The second, "Iraq - Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation", was presented by the Prime Minister to the House of Commons on 3 February 2003 as an "intelligence report". 12 of the 19 pages of that second dossier were plagiarised from 3 different on-line sources, with sections from those different sources cobbled together to make some parts of that dossier incoherent.

  1. The Prime Minister’s Dossier of 24 September 2002

According to the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman, "It was important to understand the purpose of the dossier. It was asking two questions: Had the threat increased? If so, did we have to deal with it? The answer to both questions was yes." (23 September 2002).

Jack Straw characterised this "threat" as "a severe threat to international and regional security" (speech to the House of Commons, 12 March 2002), and he claimed that Iraq was "uniquely dangerous" (speech to the Commons, 24 Sept 2002). These claims about a threat from Iraq were elaborated on with a series of claims:

CLAIM: The September dossier detailed places in Iraq that were "capable of being used" for producing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

FACT: All these sites were visited by weapons inspectors soon after they entered Iraq on 27 November 2002.

The sites mentioned in the dossier, and the date on which they were visited by UN inspectors:

Fallujah II (p.20: for the production of "chlorine and phenol") - 9 Dec 2002

Ibn Sina, Tarmiyya (p.20: for the production of "chemical agents") - 11 Dec 2002

al-Qa Qaa (p.20: a "phosgene production plant") - 9 Dec 2002

al-Sharqat (p.21: to "produce nitric acid") - 2 Jan 2003

Fallujah III (p.22: "can be used in the production of ... ricin") - 8 Dec 2002

al-Dawrah (p.22: "involved in biological agent production") - 28 Nov 2002

Amariyah (p.22: "biological warfare") - 15 Dec 2002

al-Rafah / Shahiyat (p.29: "medium range ballistic missiles") - 27 Nov 2002

• At none of these sites were any traces of prohibited weapons found.

One journalist from the al-Dawrah Institute wrote:

"By the time the inspectors left the plant today, after four hours, they had concluded that the plant was no longer operational -- not for the production of toxins, and not for animal vaccines either. Reporters who were allowed to wander through the plant after the inspectors left found the place largely in ruins. Apparently, it had been abandoned by the Iraqis after 1996, when the weapons inspectors took heavy cutting equipment to the fermenters, containers and pressurized tubing and valves used in the toxin production."

("Inspectors Find Only Ruins at an Old Iraqi Weapons Site", New York Times, 29 November 2002).

Is it possible to hide the production of weapons of mass destruction? No, according to the government's senior scientists. In testimony before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 18 June 2003, Dr Thomas Inch, former Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Ministry of Defence scientist, was asked whether chemical weapons production could be concealed at any site. He said:

"I do not believe that you can hide the fact that you had been making some toxic chemicals on that site. If a site had been declared as a chemical weapons producing site, [..], then I believe that the trace analysis and so on of certain residues would probably give confirmation of whether or not that was a correct statement."

UN inspectors, with the most sophisticated equipment for tracing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, could not find any traces of prohibited weapons at any site in Iraq.

CLAIM: The dossier claimed that "there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa".

FACT: According to the US State Department, the country in question that they claimed Iraq was trying to import uranium from was Niger, in West Africa. On 7 March 2003, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, revealed to the Security Council that the allegations were centred a round "documents provided by a number of States that pointed to an agreement between Niger and Iraq for the sale of uranium between 1999 and 2001." After reviewing the evidence extensively - including "correspondence coming from various bodies of the Government of Niger" - and "compar[ing] the form, format, contents and signatures of that correspondence with those of the alleged procurement-related documentation", ElBaradei gave his assessment of the reliability of this information:

"the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents - which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger - are in fact not authentic. We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded."

ElBaradei concluded: "There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import uranium since 1990."

Months after the forgeries were revealed, UK ministers have started to claim that the claim in the September 2002 dossier was based on different evidence for Iraqi attempts to import uranium from Africa. The IAEA in March 2003 had not received any evidence about Iraqi attempts to import uranium. The UK has an obligation under Security Council Resolutions to give material to the IAEA on Iraqi attempts to illegally import weapons material. So either the UK was violating its obligations under the same Security Council Resolutions it claimed Iraq was violating, or it was relying on forgeries to make its case for war.

CLAIM: Accompanied by large photos, the dossier claimed that:

"According to intelligence, Iraq has retained up to 20 Al Hussein missiles [..] They could be used with conventional, chemical or biological warheads and, with a range of up to 650km, are capable of reaching a number of countries in the region including Cyprus, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel."

FACT: The weapons inspectors found no sign of these missiles. But perhaps the decisive evidence comes not only from the fact that they weren't used against US/UK forces (whilst other short-range missiles were), but most importantly because finding them does not seem to be a priority for the US/UK. The dossier claims that Qusai Hussein (Saddam's son) has authority to use chemical and biological weapons: he is still at large. If the UK really believed that there were 20 hidden missiles capable of hitting Cyprus or Israel with chemical or biological warheads, and that these missiles were under the control of someone who is still not found, then surely finding and destroying them would be the highest priority?

Instead, this is what Tony Blair has had to say in Poland on 30 May 2003:

"We have only just begun the process now of investigating all the various sites. [...]. It is not the most urgent priority now for us since Saddam has gone."

Either this policy is exceedingly reckless, or the Prime Minister considers no longer his original claims about Iraq's missiles valid.

CLAIM: "Iraq has chemical and biological agents and weapons available [..] from pre-Gulf War stocks". p.23 In other words, Iraq has managed to retain stockpiles of these weapons for 12 years.

FACT: According to the weapons inspectors. Iraq produced 4 sets of chemical agents (1. VX, 2. sarin, 3. tabun, 4. mustard) and 3 sets of biological agents (5. anthrax, 6. botulinum toxin, 7. aflatoxin) in bulk that it weaponised before 1991. All of these, except mustard, would have degenerated within 5 to 10 years. These are the relevant quotes from the 173-page report of the weapons inspectors, entitled "Unresolved disarmament issues" (6 March 2003), which is at http://www.un.org/Depts/unmovic/documents/6mar.pdf:

1. "VX produced through route B must be used relatively quickly after production (about 1 to 8 weeks), which would probably be satisfactory for wartime requirements." (p.82)

[NB: Iraq produced the 1.5 tonnes of VX referred to on p.16 of the dossier using the method the inspectors called "route B". There are other ways to produce VX, but the quantity of VX that the government is referring to was produced in this unstable form]

2. "According to documents discovered by UNSCOM in Iraq, the purity of Sarin-type agents produced by Iraq were on average below 60%, and dropped below Iraq’s established quality control acceptance level of 40% by purity some 3 to 12 months after production." (p.72)

3. "documentary evidence suggests that Tabun was produced using process technology and quality control methodologies that would result in the agent being degraded to a very low quality through the action of a resulting by-product." (p.68)

4. mustard produced before 1991 would still be viable today.

5. anthrax can only be stored for ten years or more if it is dried. But the weapons inspectors recorded: "UNMOVIC has no evidence that drying of anthrax or any other agent in bulk was conducted." (p.120)

6. "any such stockpiles of botulinum toxin, whether in bulk storage or in weapons that remained in 1991, would not be active today." (p.101)

7. on aflatoxin: "Such stocks would have degraded and would contain little if any viable agent in 2003" (p.105).

In summary, all chemical and biological agents that Iraq produced before 1991 - with the one exception of the chemical agent of mustard gas - would have degenerated by now. In particular, the claim that Iraq could still have biological agents left over from 1991 -- a claim that the document does make -- is contradicted by the findings of the weapons inspectors.

CLAIM: "What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons ... I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current, that he has made progress on WMD, and that he has to be stopped." (Prime Minister’s opening to the dossier)

FACT: The assessments of the UN weapons inspectors are strikingly different:

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, statement to the Security Council, 7 March 2003:

"After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq."

UNMOVIC working document, "Unresolved Disarmament Issues" (6 March 2003), p.15:

"In general, there is little evidence of change in the chemical and biological disciplines beyond that noted above. No proscribed activities, or the result of such activities from the period of 1998-2002 have, so far, been detected through inspections."

UNMOVIC Executive-Chairman Hans Blix, interview with the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, 23 May 2003:

"I am obviously very interested in the question of whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction and I am beginning to suspect there possibly were not."

II. The Weapons Inspections

CLAIM: According to one of the few original sentences in the "dodgy dossier" of February 2003:

"Escorts are trained, for example, to start long arguments with other Iraqi officials 'on behalf of UNMOVIC' while any incriminating evidence is hastily being hidden behind the scenes."

FACT: In the words of Hans Blix, head of the UN weapons inspections body, on 14 February 2003:

"Since we arrived in Iraq, we have conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites. All inspections were performed without notice, and access was almost always provided promptly. In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming. [..] we note that access to sites has so far been without problems, including those that had never been declared or inspected, as well as to Presidential sites and private residences."

Over the next month, the assessment of the inspectors became more positive. Hans Blix hold told the Security Council on 7 March that Iraq was taking "numerous initiatives...with a view to resolving long-standing open disarmament issues", and this "can be seen as 'active', or even 'proactive'" cooperation. Iraq had destroyed 72 of its 120 medium range missiles on the request of the inspectors, and was ahead of the timetable to destroy the entire stock. The regime had passed a law prohibiting the production or retention of any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, as the inspectors had asked. They had verified that they had destroyed bombs containing anthrax in 1991 by excavating the destruction site. Could it be that the main fear of the US and UK governments was not Iraq's weapons, but that the inspectors would declare Iraq clean of prohibited weapons before they had the chance to invade?

  1. Claims about post-war Iraq

CLAIM: Standing alongside President Bush on 8 April 2003, Tony Blair said: "On weapons of mass destruction, we know that the regime has them, we know that as the regime collapses we will be led to them."

FACT: Like so many of the certainties expressed by the Prime Minister, the idea that British forces would be "led to" Iraq's weapons when "the regime collapses" has been shown to be false. Twelve weeks on from the end of the war, and despite the numerous lucrative offers made to individuals inside Iraq to tell the occupying army about Iraq's alleged hiding places for weapons, no weapons have been found. British ministers have had to resort to referring to finds of chemical protection suits of an unknown age, probably to be used in defence against potential Iranian attacks, and mobile vans, which the scientists working on claimed were for the production of hydrogen for artillery guidance balloons (sold by the UK to Iraq in the 1980s).

CLAIM: "The United Kingdom should seek a new Security Council Resolution that would affirm ... the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people." Tony Blair to the House of Commons on 18 March 2003.

FACT: The UK sponsored a resolution to the Security Council, which was passed to become Security Council Resolution 1483, that deductions would be made from Iraq's oil revenues to pay as compensation for the invasion Kuwait. The UN has already determined that it should pay a further $26bn in reparations, and governments and corporations have claimed over $200bn more. That amount is 20 years worth of Iraq's entire oil income at present levels.

CLAIM: In his speech of 18 March, Tony Blair pledged following the overthrow of the Iraqi regime, "the oil revenues, which people falsely claim that we want to seize, should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the UN."

FACT: The UK-sponsored resolution created a "Development Fund", into which Iraqi oil revenues are placed after the deduction for compensation. It then states (paragraph 13) that "funds in the Development Fund for Iraq shall be disbursed at the direction of the Authority". As the resolution defines it, the Authority is the "unified command" of the "United States of America and the United Kingdom ... as occupying powers". So in direct contrast to the government’s claims, oil revenues are effectively seized by the US and UK.

Promises in respect of a post-war Iraq have been disingenuous. The claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, however, and its threat to international security, all turned out to be false. Britain was misled into a war on no valid legal or security grounds. The central issue at stake is not whether one individual lied or not. It is the absence of truth that has to be accounted for. To take a country into war on the basis of a series of manufactured falsehoods throws the whole credibility of government authority into question. No amount of diversionary attacks on the BBC can duck this central issue.

Produced by Alan Simpson MP and Dr. Glen Rangwala for Labour Against the War, 3 July 2003


 

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