|Secret papers show Blair was warned of Iraq chaos
By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent
Telegraph" -- Tony Blair was warned a year before invading Iraq that a stable post-war government would be impossible without keeping large numbers of troops there for "many years", secret government papers reveal.
The documents, seen by The Telegraph, show more clearly than ever the grave reservations expressed by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, over the consequences of a second Gulf war and how prescient his Foreign Office officials were in predicting the ensuing chaos.
They told the Prime Minister that there was a risk of the Iraqi system "reverting to type" after a war, with a future government acquiring the very weapons of mass destruction that an attack would be designed to remove.
The documents further show that the Prime Minister was advised that he would have to "wrong foot" Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, and that British officials believed that President George W Bush merely wanted to complete his father's "unfinished business" in a "grudge match" against Saddam.
But it is the warning of the likely aftermath - more than a year in advance, as Mr Blair was deciding to commit Britain to joining a US-led invasion - that is likely to cause most controversy and embarrassment in both London and Washington.
More than 900 allied troops have been killed in Iraq since the end of the war, 33 of them British. More than 10,000 civilians are believed to have been killed.
At least 13 civilians died yesterday in a suicide bomb attack on a police checkpoint in Baghdad. The Iraqi health ministry said a further 45 civilians had died in US air attacks on Fallujah overnight.
Mr Straw predicted in March 2002 that post-war Iraq would cause major problems, telling Mr Blair in a letter marked "Secret and personal" that no one had a clear idea of what would happen afterwards. "There seems to be a larger hole in this than anything."
Most of the US assessments argued for regime change as a means of eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Mr Straw said.
"But no one has satisfactorily answered how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be any better. Iraq has no history of democracy so no one has this habit or experience."
Senior ministerial advisers warned bluntly in a "Secret UK Eyes Only" options paper that "the greater investment of Western forces, the greater our control over Iraq's future, but the greater the cost and the longer we would need to stay".
The paper, compiled by the Cabinet Office Overseas and Defence Secretariat, added: "The only certain means to remove Saddam and his elite is to invade and impose a new government, but this would involve nation-building over many years."
Replacing Saddam with another "Sunni strongman" would allow the allies to withdraw their troops quickly. This leader could be persuaded not to seek WMD in exchange for large-scale assistance with reconstruction.
"However, there would then be a strong risk of the Iraqi system reverting to type. Military coup could succeed coup until an autocratic Sunni dictator emerged who protected Sunni interests. With time he could acquire WMD," the paper said.
Even a representative government would be likely to create its own WMD so long as Israel and Iran retained their own arsenals and Palestinian grievances remained unresolved.
But there would be other major problems with a democratic government.
If it were to survive, "it would require the US and others to commit to nation-building for many years. This would entail a substantial international security force."
The documents also show the degree of concern within Whitehall that America was ready to invade Iraq with or without backing from any of its allies.
Sir David Manning, Mr Blair's foreign policy adviser, returned from talks in Washington in mid-March 2002 warning that Mr Bush "still has to find answers to the big questions", which included "what happens on the morning after?".
In a letter to the Prime Minister marked "Secret - strictly personal", he said: "I think there is a real risk that the administration underestimates the difficulties.
"They may agree that failure isn't an option, but this does not mean they will necessarily avoid it."
The Cabinet Office said that the US believed that the legal basis for war already existed and had lost patience with the policy of containment.
It did not see the war on terrorism as being a major element in American decision-making.
"The swift success of the war in Afghanistan, distrust of UN sanctions and inspections regimes and unfinished business from 1991 are all factors," it added. That view appeared to be shared by Peter Ricketts, the Foreign Office policy director.
There were "real problems" over the alleged threat and what the US was looking to achieve by toppling Saddam, he said. Nothing had changed to make Iraqi WMD more of a threat.
"Even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years. Military operations need clear and compelling military objectives. For Iraq, 'regime change' does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge match between Bush and Saddam."
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