A secret document from the heart of government reveals today that Tony Blair privately committed Britain to war with Iraq and then set out to lure Saddam Hussein into providing the legal justification.
The Downing Street minutes, headed “Secret and strictly personal — UK eyes only”, detail one of the most important meetings ahead of the invasion.
It was chaired by the prime minister and attended by his inner circle. The document reveals Blair backed “regime change” by force from the outset, despite warnings from Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, that such action could be illegal.
The minutes, published by The Sunday Times today, begins with the warning: “This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. The paper should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know.” It records a meeting in July 2002, attended by military and intelligence chiefs, at which Blair discussed military options having already committed himself to supporting President George Bush’s plans for ousting Saddam.
“If the political context were right, people would support regime change,” said Blair. He added that the key issues were “whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan space to work”.
The political strategy proved to be arguing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed such a threat that military action had to be taken. However, at the July meeting Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, said the case for war was “thin” as “Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran”.
Straw suggested they should “work up” an ultimatum about weapons inspectors that would “help with the legal justification”. Blair is recorded as saying that “it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors”.
A separate secret briefing for the meeting said Britain and America had to “create” conditions to justify a war.