A now infamous dossier containing ‘sexed up’ allegations that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was used to justify the UK’s participation in the Iraq War. Perhaps the most pivotal claim was that these weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes – a frightening thought – but it’s since been established that no such weapons existed.
So, did Tony Blair’s government believe Iraq had WMDs capable of harming Britain, or was the dossier deliberately ‘sexed up’ to persuade the public that conflict was necessary?
Correspondence between Blair and his associates suggests the decision to invade was based on the idea of regime change, rather than defence against WMDs.
A minute from Blair to Jonathan Powell, his Chief of Staff, and Sir David Manning, his Foreign Policy Advisor, acknowledges national and international scepticism: ‘the persuasion job on this seems very tough’.
Blair then makes a moral case for deposing Saddam Hussein: ‘a political philosophy that does care about other nations – eg Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone – and is prepared to change regimes on the merits, should be gung-ho on Saddam’.
His only reference to WMDs is that they: ‘don’t seem obviously worse than 3 years ago’.
Blair’s rhetoric suggests the invasion of Iraq was about more than just WMDs, and a message from Powell to him, with Manning copied in, reinforces this.
Powell writes: ‘We need a road map to getting rid of Saddam’. This is contrary to the idea that the aim was only to remove WMDs, which could have been achieved without deposing Saddam.
He advises establishing a legal basis to any invasion, which: ‘Needs to be based on WMD rather than terrorism or regime change’, offering the clearest indication that public fear of WMDs was manipulated to legitimise the conflict.
If this was indeed the case, then the September Dossier can be considered a successful example of vertical government propaganda. It was published openly by the government, and so should not be considered black, or covert, propaganda. But, even if the Blair administration believed Saddam’s WMDs existed, this wasn’t the primary reason for their decision to invade Iraq – therefore, they were intentionally misleading the public.