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Emails show how No 10 constructed case for war

Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor 

Saturday August 23, 2003: (The Guardian) Two radically different versions of what happened inside Downing Street in September last year in the run-up to the war with Iraq emerged this week from Lord Hutton's inquiry.

The version that Downing Street presented to the public at the time was of a prime minister struggling to avoid war, intent on working within international law by going through the United Nations, and hinting that Britain was acting as a check on the wilder and more belligerent elements within Washington.

But the emails from various staff members at Downing Street produced in evidence to the Hutton inquiry this week suggest an alternative narrative. These emails, covering the period between September 5 and the publication on September 24 of the government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, are not full of concerns and proposals about how the dossier will impact on efforts to get the UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq and ensure that Saddam Hussein cooperated with them.

Instead, the thoughts expressed in the emails convey a frantic attempt to produce a dossier that will justify aggressive action against Saddam Hussein. Within the space of a fortnight and with almost no new evidence - other than the now infamous "45-minute warning" - Mr Blair's aides turned British policy towards Iraq upside down.

For more than 10 years, British policy was to contain Saddam by keeping him weak through sanctions, imposition of no-fly zones and diplomatic isolation. He was regarded as a potential threat but not a pressing one. He dealt with his own people brutally but, with regard to the threat posed to his neighbours and the west, he was in his box and, as long as the US and British planes remained in the region, he could be kept there.

By the time the dossier was published, Saddam had become someone that had to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, one intent on aggression towards his neighbours and the west. Downing Street had produced a new narrative.

In an email released this week Daniel Pruce, a Foreign Office diplomat seconded to the Downing Street press department, offers a glimpse into how No 10 worked to achieve this transformation. "Can we insert a few quotes from speeches he [Saddam] has made which, even if they are not specific, demonstrate that he is a bad man with a general hostility towards his neighbours and the west?" Mr Pruce wrote in the email on September 10 to another diplomat, Mark Matthews, who at the time was in the Foreign Office press department.

He set out a sneaky course of action for bringing public opinion round: "Much of the evidence we have is largely circumstantial so we need to convey to our readers that the cumulation of these facts demonstrates an intent on Saddam's part - the more they can be led to this conclusion themselves rather than have to accept judgments from us, the better."

In a separate email, Mr Pruce said: "Our aim should be to convey the impression that things have not been static in Iraq but that over the past decade he has been aggressively and relentlessly pursuing WMD while brutally repressing his own people."

He added that any reference to weapons should describe their destructive capacity, for example that UN weapons inspectors between 1991 and 1998 "found enough chemical warfare agent to kill x thousand people or contaminate an area the size of Wales."

Other Downing Street aides were also throwing in suggestions that would contribute towards an alarming picture of the Iraqi threat. Tom Kelly, a Downing Street press officer, in an email to Alastair Campbell, the director of communicationson September 11, wrote that there was a need to demonstrate that Saddam had not only the capability to mount an attack but the intent: "We know that [Saddam] is a bad man and has done bad things in the past. We know he is trying to get WMD - and this shows those attempts are intensifying. But can we show why we think he intends to use them aggressively, rather than in self-defence? We need that to counter the argument that Saddam is bad, but not mad."

Mr Kelly also wrote to another Downing Street press officer, Godric Smith, expressing regret that the dossier could not talk up the nuclear threat. The MI6 assessment was that while Saddam wanted a nuclear capability, he did not possess one and was unlikely to do so for years to come. Mr Kelly reluctantly acknowledged this: "The weakness, obviously, is our inability to say he could pull the nuclear trigger any time soon."

Mr Campbell, when asked at the inquiry on Tuesday about Mr Pruce's emails, played down his importance, saying that decisions about what should be in the dossier were taken by staff above his pay grade.

But such emails cannot be dismissed that easily. These emails were in response to a remit set out by someone senior at Downing Street.

The tone of the exchanges suggest that the remit was not to draw up a dossier presenting a realistic appraisal of the threat posed by Saddam but to exaggerate it.

The alternative narrative is that after Mr Blair saw George Bush at Camp David on September 8, the prime minister was readying British and international opinion for war. The flurry of emails came im mediately after that Camp David meeting.

Peter Stothard, the former Times editor who had access to Downing Street at the time, describes in his book 30 Days how Mr Blair in September based his policy on six points, one of which was that "Gulf war 2 - president George W. Bush vs Saddam Hussein - would happen whatever anyone else said or did".

This sense that the decision had been made is also echoed by the former cabinet minister, Clare Short, who opposed the war and who told the Commons foreign affairs committee that she had been informed by three senior people - believed to be another cabinet minister, an MI6 chief and a top civil servant - that war was inevitable. One of them told her to stop fretting because it could not be stopped.

Seen against that background, the frenzied tone of the Downing Street emails makes sense.
Emails show how No 10 constructed case for war

Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Saturday August 23, 2003
The Guardian

Two radically different versions of what happened inside Downing Street in September last year in the run-up to the war with Iraq emerged this week from Lord Hutton's inquiry.

The version that Downing Street presented to the public at the time was of a prime minister struggling to avoid war, intent on working within international law by going through the United Nations, and hinting that Britain was acting as a check on the wilder and more belligerent elements within Washington.

But the emails from various staff members at Downing Street produced in evidence to the Hutton inquiry this week suggest an alternative narrative. These emails, covering the period between September 5 and the publication on September 24 of the government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, are not full of concerns and proposals about how the dossier will impact on efforts to get the UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq and ensure that Saddam Hussein cooperated with them.

Instead, the thoughts expressed in the emails convey a frantic attempt to produce a dossier that will justify aggressive action against Saddam Hussein. Within the space of a fortnight and with almost no new evidence - other than the now infamous "45-minute warning" - Mr Blair's aides turned British policy towards Iraq upside down.

For more than 10 years, British policy was to contain Saddam by keeping him weak through sanctions, imposition of no-fly zones and diplomatic isolation. He was regarded as a potential threat but not a pressing one. He dealt with his own people brutally but, with regard to the threat posed to his neighbours and the west, he was in his box and, as long as the US and British planes remained in the region, he could be kept there.

By the time the dossier was published, Saddam had become someone that had to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, one intent on aggression towards his neighbours and the west. Downing Street had produced a new narrative.

In an email released this week Daniel Pruce, a Foreign Office diplomat seconded to the Downing Street press department, offers a glimpse into how No 10 worked to achieve this transformation. "Can we insert a few quotes from speeches he [Saddam] has made which, even if they are not specific, demonstrate that he is a bad man with a general hostility towards his neighbours and the west?" Mr Pruce wrote in the email on September 10 to another diplomat, Mark Matthews, who at the time was in the Foreign Office press department.

He set out a sneaky course of action for bringing public opinion round: "Much of the evidence we have is largely circumstantial so we need to convey to our readers that the cumulation of these facts demonstrates an intent on Saddam's part - the more they can be led to this conclusion themselves rather than have to accept judgments from us, the better."

In a separate email, Mr Pruce said: "Our aim should be to convey the impression that things have not been static in Iraq but that over the past decade he has been aggressively and relentlessly pursuing WMD while brutally repressing his own people."

He added that any reference to weapons should describe their destructive capacity, for example that UN weapons inspectors between 1991 and 1998 "found enough chemical warfare agent to kill x thousand people or contaminate an area the size of Wales."

Other Downing Street aides were also throwing in suggestions that would contribute towards an alarming picture of the Iraqi threat. Tom Kelly, a Downing Street press officer, in an email to Alastair Campbell, the director of communicationson September 11, wrote that there was a need to demonstrate that Saddam had not only the capability to mount an attack but the intent: "We know that [Saddam] is a bad man and has done bad things in the past. We know he is trying to get WMD - and this shows those attempts are intensifying. But can we show why we think he intends to use them aggressively, rather than in self-defence? We need that to counter the argument that Saddam is bad, but not mad."

Mr Kelly also wrote to another Downing Street press officer, Godric Smith, expressing regret that the dossier could not talk up the nuclear threat. The MI6 assessment was that while Saddam wanted a nuclear capability, he did not possess one and was unlikely to do so for years to come. Mr Kelly reluctantly acknowledged this: "The weakness, obviously, is our inability to say he could pull the nuclear trigger any time soon."

Mr Campbell, when asked at the inquiry on Tuesday about Mr Pruce's emails, played down his importance, saying that decisions about what should be in the dossier were taken by staff above his pay grade.

But such emails cannot be dismissed that easily. These emails were in response to a remit set out by someone senior at Downing Street.

The tone of the exchanges suggest that the remit was not to draw up a dossier presenting a realistic appraisal of the threat posed by Saddam but to exaggerate it.

The alternative narrative is that after Mr Blair saw George Bush at Camp David on September 8, the prime minister was readying British and international opinion for war. The flurry of emails came im mediately after that Camp David meeting.

Peter Stothard, the former Times editor who had access to Downing Street at the time, describes in his book 30 Days how Mr Blair in September based his policy on six points, one of which was that "Gulf war 2 - president George W. Bush vs Saddam Hussein - would happen whatever anyone else said or did".

This sense that the decision had been made is also echoed by the former cabinet minister, Clare Short, who opposed the war and who told the Commons foreign affairs committee that she had been informed by three senior people - believed to be another cabinet minister, an MI6 chief and a top civil servant - that war was inevitable. One of them told her to stop fretting because it could not be stopped.

Seen against that background, the frenzied tone of the Downing Street emails makes sense.


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