Iraq: how we were duped
By Gary Hughes
05/14/05 "The Age" - - When Tony Blair's Labour Party was re-elected in Britain two weeks ago, the saga of the Iraq War begun in March 2003 seemed to be, in one sense, over.
All three leaders of the "Coalition of the Willing" - the United States, Australia and Great Britain - had survived politically after a war that divided citizens and challenged long established principles of international law.
The three leaders survived despite evidence - still emerging - that now seems to prove that the detailed justifications for the war were not only wrong, but in many cases known to be wrong or uncertain before the war began. This is the second battle for Iraq - the battle for the truth.
Thousands of pages of evidence, hundreds of hours of hearings, scores of witnesses and long lists of recommendations have been produced in Australia, the US and Britain as official inquiries have tried to establish who knew what and when.
The world now knows that the path to war in Iraq was paved with untruths, distortions and errors. There were no hidden stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the mobile biological warfare laboratories didn't exist, Iraq was not operating hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's dream of developing a nuclear bomb was just that, a dream.
Doubts over the legality of the war have deepened. The case
justifying military intervention has steadily fallen apart.
As the truth has slowly emerged, the political leaders who
argued that war was essential to counter the threat from WMD have
shifted ground. We are now told that regime change - the need to
end Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule - was justification enough.
The casualties in the battle for the truth have not been the
politicians. They have been the western world's intelligence
agencies, which according to official inquiries in Australia, the
US and Britain, got it very wrong. They used a mishmash of
outdated, exaggerated and simply false information from often
doubtful sources to present a picture of an Iraq that threatened
world peace. Political leaders in turn polished up and passed on
that picture to the public to justify war.
The US presidential commission's report in March described the
mistakes as "one of the most public - and most damaging -
intelligence failures in recent American history".
Anthony Cassimatis, the Executive Director (International Law)
at Queensland University's Centre for Public, International and
Comparative Law, was one of 43 experts in international law and
human rights who warned a month before the invasion of Iraq that
military action would be illegal. He told The Age this
week that the absence of evidence of WMD "has political and
moral significance", but the war was already illegal before
that was known and remains so.
He said that it was potentially possible for Australian
political leaders to be prosecuted in an Australian court for the
common law crime of aggression, although it was unlikely to
succeed. A similar attempt to have the Prime Minister and three
other members of federal parliament charged under common law with
genocide of Aborigines in 1999 failed in the Federal Court."
A similar argument could be run regarding the crime of
aggression. I do not, however, think that such a claim would
succeed in an Australian court," Dr Cassimatis said.
The following is the best evidence to date about the Iraq war -
what we were told then, and what has emerged since.
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
WHAT WE WERE TOLD: IRAQ POSSESSED BIOLOGICAL AND
CHEMICAL WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
The Governments of Australia, the US and Britain were adamant
that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction that
it was ready to use.
Prime Minister John Howard told Parliament on March 13, 2003,
that it was "inherently dangerous" for Iraq to have such
weapons and it was in Australia's interest that it have
"taken from her her chemical and biological weapons".
Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, released an intelligence
dossier on Iraq's WMD in September 2002, saying it established
"beyond doubt" that "Saddam has continued to
produce chemical and biological weapons".
The dossier said that "intelligence indicates that as part
of Iraq's military planning, Saddam is willing to use chemical and
biological weapons ..."
Then US secretary of state Colin Powell told the UN in February
2003 that Iraq had rocket launchers and warheads holding chemical
"Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a
stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons
agent," Powell said.
WHAT WE NOW KNOW:
The UN Iraq Survey Group led the official search for evidence
of WMD in postwar Iraq, inspecting likely sites and interviewing
key figures from the fallen regime.
In its three-volume report released on September 30 last year,
the group concluded that Iraq had no formal strategy or plan for
reviving its WMD program after the UNimposed sanctions following
the 1991 Gulf War.
While Saddam Hussein believed in the power of WMD and wanted
them, his intention was to wait till after sanctions were lifted
to begin working on them again.
The survey group concluded that Iraq "unilaterally
destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991"
and there were no credible indications that Baghdad had resumed
On biological weapons, the survey group said that Iraq
abandoned its existing program in late 1995 in the belief that it
constituted a potential embarrassment that would, if uncovered,
lead to prolonging of UN sanctions.
Undeclared stocks of biological weapons and remaining holdings
of bulk biological warfare agents were destroyed in 1991 and 1992.
The British Government's inquiry into pre-war intelligence
failures, led by Lord Butler, concluded that prior to the start of
the war in March 2003, "there was no recent intelligence that
would itself have given rise to a conclusion that Iraq was of more
immediate concern than the activities of some other
WHAT WE WERE TOLD: IRAQ HAD MOBILE BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS
Claims about Iraq's mobile laboratories first appeared in
September 2002, with the intelligence dossier released by Blair
saying a number were in use.
The following month the CIA went further, saying that Iraq had
"large-scale" biological warfare production capabilities
in mobile laboratories.
In February 2003, Powell provided details of Iraq's
"biological weapons factories" to the UN Security
Council, including artists' impressions of what they might look
Two trailers found in Iraq after the war that appeared to have
been fitted out as mobile laboratories were initially used by the
US as proof the pre-war reports were true.
In May 2003, US President George Bush produced CIA and other
intelligence assessments that these trailers were proof of Iraq's
WHAT WE NOW KNOW:
In June 2003, a report by UK intelligence agency MI6 and
British biological warfare experts who inspected the two trailers
concluded they were for the production of hydrogen to fill
In August 2003, The New York Times revealed that,
according to the US Defence Intelligence Agency, the most likely
use for the two trailers was to produce hydrogen for weather
In its report in September 2004 the Iraq Survey Group, which
hunted in vain for evidence of WMD, said it had interviewed 60
Iraqi scientists and other officials likely to be linked to mobile
laboratories and inspected a number of sites. No evidence could be
found for the existence of such mobile facilities.
According to the US presidential commission on intelligence
released in March this year, the information about supposed mobile
laboratories first came from a defecting Iraqi chemical engineer,
codenamed "Curveball", in 2000.
Curveball was "run" by German intelligence officials,
who warned the CIA in 2002 that the defector was "crazy"
and most likely a "fabricator". "Virtually all of
the intelligence community's information on Iraq's alleged mobile
biological weapons facilities was supplied by ...
Curveball, who was a fabricator," the commission's report
WHAT WE WERE TOLD: IRAQ COULD LAUNCH WMD WITHIN 45
The British Government's intelligence dossier in September 2002
said that not only were Saddam's supposed WMD in place, but some
could be deployed within 45 minutes.
It was this claim that led to allegations the British
Government had "sexed up" intelligence reports and
indirectly led to the death of British defence whistleblower Dr
The British claim of biological and chemical weapons standing
ready to fire was supported by Powell in his crucial address to
the UN Security Council in February 2003, in which he described
how missiles with WMD warheads were hidden in western Iraq."
Most of the launchers and warheads had been hidden in large
groves of palm trees and were to be moved every one to four weeks
to escape detection," he said.
WHAT WE NOW KNOW:
No biological or chemical weapons have been found, let alone
any that could be deployed within 45 minutes. Nor did Australia's
SAS troops find any rocket launchers and warheads hidden under
palm trees in the western Iraqi desert, where they were dispatched
at the start of the war with the specific task of searching for
The inquiry into Kelly's death led by Lord Hutton examined the
45 minutes claim and concluded that it was based on information
provided by a single although normally reliable British
But Hutton said the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons
section of Britain's Defence Intelligence Staff had concerns about
the claim and wanted the language used in the dossier watered down
and qualified with the words "intelligence suggests".
WHAT WE WERE TOLD: IRAQ WAS TRYING TO DEVELOP NUCLEAR
The Australian, British and US Governments told their citizens
in the lead-up to war that Iraq wanted to develop nuclear weapons.
Two pieces of evidence were used during late 2002 and early 2003
to support these claims. The first was that Iraq had attempted to
obtain uranium from Niger, in Africa, and the second was Iraq's
purchase of aluminium tubes that could be used to build
centrifuges for enriching uranium.
Powell used Iraq's attempts to obtain uranium as evidence of
Iraq's nuclear ambitions while giving evidence to a US Senate
hearing in September 2002. A month later the US State Department
released documents to intelligence agencies in October 2002
purporting to prove Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger.
In September 2002, the British Government's intelligence
dossier on Iraq said that "there is intelligence that Iraq
has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from
On the controversial aluminium tubes, Iraq claimed they were to
make the bodies of rockets. But Powell told the UN Security
Council in February 2003 that "Saddam Hussein is determined
to get his hands on a nuclear bomb".
WHAT WE NOW KNOW:
There were serious doubts about the two crucial pieces of
evidence long before they were used to justify going to war with
Iraq. In February 2002, the CIA sent former US ambassador Joseph
Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims. He reported
that any transaction was unlikely to have occurred.
In March 2002, the US State Department's bureau of intelligence
and research advised Powell that claims of Iraq's attempts to buy
uranium were not credible.
In March 2003, as the coalition of the willing were going to
war, the director general of the International Atomic Energy
Agency told the UN that the documents supposedly showing Iraq had
attempted to buy uranium from Niger were "not authentic"
and the allegations were "unfounded".
The Iraq Survey Group, which searched for WMD after the
invasion, found no evidence that Iraq had sought uranium from
Africa or anywhere since 1991. On the contrary, it established
that Iraq had declined an offer to buy uranium from a Ugandan
middleman in 2001.
Concerns over the use of the aluminium tubes as evidence for
Iraq's nuclear ambitions date back to August 2001, when the US
Department of Energy's intelligence office assessed samples and
said they were not wellsuited for a centrifuge and were more
likely for making rockets. The International Atomic Energy Agency
agreed with that assessment.
But the US in particular kept using the aluminium tubes to help
prove the case for war during 2002 and early 2003.
The Iraq Survey Group concluded in its final report last year
that Iraq had not tried to restart its nuclear weapons program
The US presidential commission on Iraq intelligence found in
March this year that the intelligence community "seriously
misjudged the status of Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons
LEGALITY OF THE INVASION
WHAT WE WERE TOLD: THE INVASION OF IRAQ WAS LEGAL UNDER
EXISTING UNITED NATIONS RESOLUTIONS
Australia, the US and Britain argued that any invasion of Iraq
would be legal without the need to obtain a further UN Security
Council resolution. The argument was used by the leaders of all
three countries after it became apparent in the lead-up to war
that any new resolution would be vetoed in the Security Council by
John Howard admitted in his address to Parliament on March 18,
2003, in which he announced he had agreed to a US request to use
force, that he would have preferred a new resolution authorising
But the Government's legal advice on the right to take action
under 17 previous resolutions dating back to 1990 - and in
particular resolution 1441, that warned Iraq it faced
"serious consequences" if it did not agree to new
weapons inspections - was "unequivocal"."
The existing United Nations Security Council resolutions
already provide for the use of force to disarm Iraq and restore
international peace and security to the area. This legal advice is
consistent with that provided to the British Government by its
attorney-general," Howard said.
That advice from Britain's Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith,
publicly released a day earlier in the House of Commons, stated
that authority to use force against Iraq existed from the combined
effect of previous UN resolutions.
In the US, Bush told his nation that under existing UN
resolutions "the United States and our allies are authorised
to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction".
"This is not a question of authority, it is a question of
will," he said.
WHAT WE NOW KNOW:
The legality of the war against Iraq was far from being as
clear-cut as we were told.
The full version of the secret legal advice provided to Tony
Blair by Goldsmith, which was released last month, said that
wording of the key UN resolution 1441 "leaves the position
unclear" and "arguments can be made on both sides".
"In these circumstances, I remain of the opinion that the
safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further
resolution to authorise the use of force," Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith admitted in the advice that after hearing the
arguments of Bush Administration experts during a visit to
Washington, he accepted that a "reasonable case" could
be made that resolution 1441 justified military action."
But regime change cannot be the objective of military
action," he said in the advice dated March 7, 2003.
In September last year UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the
BBC that "from our point of view and the UN charter point of
view, it (military action against Iraq) was illegal."
SADDAM HUSSEIN'S REIGN OF TERROR
WHAT WE WERE TOLD: SADDAM HUSSEIN USED A HUMAN
SHREDDING MACHINE TO EXECUTE OPPONENTS
John Howard famously provided additional credibility to claims
that Saddam had his opponents fed into a human shredding machine
when he referred to it in a televised address to the nation on the
eve of the Iraq war.
"This week, The Times of London detailed the use
of a human shredding machine as a vehicle for putting to death
critics of Saddam Hussein. This is the man, this is the apparatus
of terror we are dealing with," Howard said on March 20,
2003, while telling Australia he was committing troops to the
invasion of Iraq.
WHAT WE NOW KNOW:
The human shredder, which was supposed to be at Baghdad's
notorious Abu Ghraib prison, has yet to be found.
Last year Britain's Spectator magazine set out to track down
the source of the shredder claim, starting with the Times article
that was written by a British Labour member of parliament, Ann
Clwyd chaired a group called Indict, which had been campaigning
against the Baathist regime that supported Saddam. She had written
on March 18, 2003, that male prisoners were dropped into the
machine "designed for shredding plastic" and their
minced remains packed into plastic bags before being used as
Indict had first mentioned the human shredder in public on
March 12, 2003, using information it said it had got from an
unnamed Iraqi dissident in northern Iraq.
An Iraqi doctor who worked in the hospital attached to Abu
Ghraib prison told the Spectator in February 2004 that there was
no shredding machine. "As far as I know (hanging) was the
only form of execution used there," he said.
IRAQ'S LINKS TO TERRORISM
WHAT WE WERE TOLD: IRAQ SUPPORTED OSAMA BIN LADEN'S AL-QAEDA
Colin Powell set out a powerful case for Iraq's support of al-Qaeda
when he addressed the UN in February 2003.
Describing the "sinister nexus", he said Iraq's links
to the terrorist network could be traced back to the mid-1990s,
when Iraqi intelligence officials met regularly with senior al-
"Iraq today harbours a deadly terrorist network headed by
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin
Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants," Powell said.
Powell produced satellite photographs of a terrorist training
camp run by Zarqawi, which he said was providing training in
"poison and explosives". Although he admitted the
training camp was in Kurdish northern Iraq, outside of the area
controlled by Saddam, Powell said Zarqawi had received medical
attention in Baghdad and an Iraqi intelligence agent was working
with the terrorist leader."
Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with al-Qaeda. These
denials are simply not credible," Powell said.
WHAT WE NOW KNOW:
The US Congress' commission on the 9/11 attacks said in its
final report, released last August, that in the early 1990s bin
Laden had actually been supporting anti-Saddam rebels in Iraq.
When bin Laden met a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in late
1994 or early 1995 to ask for weapons and space to establish
training camps, there was "no evidence that Iraq responded to
"There is also evidence that around this time bin Laden
sent out a number of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some
co-operation," the commission found. "None are reported
to have received a significant response." On the contrary,
said the commission, Saddam was trying to "stay clear of bin
In 1998 Iraq reportedly initiated new contacts with bin Laden,
with a meeting in Afghanistan, then the home base of al-Qaeda.
When Iraq offered bin Laden safe haven, the al-Qaeda leader
declined, although friendly contacts continued.
"But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the
earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational
relationship," the commission report said.
INSIDERS WHO SPOKE OUT
Dr David Kelly
The British Ministry of Defence's most senior biological
weapons expert and adviser to intelligence agencies on Iraq, Dr
Kelly was the anonymous source for BBC reports in May 2003 that a
dossier used by the Blair Government to justify invading Iraq had
been "sexed up".
He was known to be particularly doubtful about the claim that
Saddam Hussein's regime could deploy WMD within 45 minutes.
After being revealed as the BBC's source and grilled before a
parliamentary inquiry, Dr Kelly was found dead in July 2003. An
inquiry into Dr Kelly's death and his allegations by Lord Hutton
concluded that the scientist had taken his own life by swallowing
pain-killers and slashing his left wrist. The Hutton inquiry
findings, released in January 2004, cleared the Blair Government
of any serious wrongdoing in Dr Kelly's death and said the claims
it had "sexed up" intelligence information were
unfounded. In December, the paramedics who attended first at Dr
Kelly's death raised doubts that he had committed suicide.
A former senior Australian intelligence official and weapons
expert, he resigned in protest from the UScontrolled Iraq Survey
Group last year during its fruitless search for WMD. He claimed
the group's report to the US Congress had been politically
censored and distorted, with information deliberately omitted that
contradicted previous US claims on Saddam's WMD. In February, he
went public on ABC television revealing that he had provided
advice before the war to the Australian and US governments that
Iraq's weapons did not threaten either country. He also challenged
the Federal Government's assertions that Australians had not taken
part in interrogations of Iraqi prisoners, revealing he had
interviewed one senior military officer himself.
The former senior intelligence analyst in Australia's
Office of National Assessments resigned in protest a week before
the start of the Iraq war, claiming it would "make Australia
a more likely terrorist target". In August 2003 he told a
parliamentary inquiry that the Government had deceived the public
before the Iraq war, exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam
Hussein by ignoring vital qualifications placed on intelligence
about arms programs. Wilkie said intelligence information had been
"sexed up" by the Government before being used in the
"Sometimes the exaggeration was so great it was clear
dishonesty," he said. Prime Minister John Howard later
accused Wilkie of "distortion, exaggeration and
The former UN arms inspector in Iraq first went public in 1999
with claims that the US had used the supposedly neutral inspection
teams to spy on Saddam's regime, including planting surveillance
devices. Continuing to campaign against military intervention, he
said in August 2002 that Iraq's weapons programs had been
eliminated and it posed no threat. His claim that the British
Secret Service was planning a disinformation campaign against Iraq
in the late 1990s was investigated by the Blair Government's
Butler inquiry into pre-war intelligence and found to be true.
Earlier this year, Ritter wrote in The Age that the
invasion of Iraq was "a crime of gigantic proportions".
The former chief counter-terrorism adviser to the National
Security Council in the Clinton and Bush administrations revealed
in March 2004 that there was no evidence that Iraq had supported
al-Qaeda, despite claims made by President George Bush. "They
wanted to believe there was a connection," he said. Later
Clarke told the presidential commission inquiry into Iraq
intelligence failures that he wrote a memo just seven days after
the twin towers attacks in New York in 2001 saying there were no
confirmed reports of Saddam ever co-operating with al- Qaeda on
unconventional weapons. He said the Bush Administration's
obsession with Iraq had diverted its attention from the war on
terrorism and al-Qaeda.
THE ROAD TO WAR . . . AND BEYOND
NOVEMBER 8, 2002
UN Security Council unanimously passes resolution 1441, which
orders Saddam Hussein to accept the unconditional return of
weapons inspectors or face "serious consequences".
Ten days later weapons inspectors return to Iraq for the first
time in almost four years.
UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reports that Iraq
"appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance ... of the
disarmament that was demanded".
Blix indicates that slight progress has been made in Iraq's
He voices doubts about key elements of the intelligence
presented to the Security Council by then US secretary of state
Colin Powell about Iraq's WMD.
Blix attempts to delay a war, calling for more time to verify
Iraq's compliance. Britain and US respond by setting a March 17
deadline for Saddam to comply.
France says it will veto any attempt to have the Security Council
pass a second resolution, as sought by the US, Britain and
President George Bush issues an ultimatum to Saddam
saying he and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Prime
Minister John Howard tells Parliament that cabinet has agreed to
commit Australian troops to any military action.
The invasion of Iraq, codenamed Operation Iraqi Freedom, begins at
2.30am Baghdad time. John Howard tells the nation that Australian
troops were committed to action "because we believe it is
right, it is lawful and it's in Australia's national
President George Bush declares victory in the "Battle of
Iraq" beneath a banner reading "Mission
accomplished". A further 1235 coalition troops have since
died in continuing fighting. Total civilian and insurgent
casualties are unknown.
The body of British whistleblower Dr David Kelly is
found. Kelly was the source of allegations that intelligence about
Iraq's WMD had been "sexed up".
Saddam is captured.
The parliamentary inquiry into Australia's intelligence on Iraq
before the war says the Government was more moderate and more
measured in its pre-war statements than either Britain or the US.
It recommends an independent review of the performance of the
The Iraq Survey Group reports after an extensive search
that Iraq's WMD capabilities were essentially destroyed after the
1991 Gulf War and there was no formal plan or strategy to revive
John Howard's Government re-elected.
George Bush re-elected.
The US presidential commission on intelligence on Iraq
before the war describes the mistakes made about Saddam's WMD
capabilities as "one of the most public - and most damaging -
intelligence failures in recent American history".
Howard farewells 450 Australian troops leaving for Iraq to provide
security for Japanese engineers in al-Muthanna in the country's
Tony Blair's Government re-elected.
Copyright © 2005. The Age Company Ltd.
(In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes.
Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the
originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)