Carne Ross, a former British official to the UN*, offered his controversial testimony to the Chilcot inquiry today – and it makes uncomfortable reading for the government of the time.
In his written evidence, Ross said he believed the government had “intentionally and substantially exaggerated” its assessment of Iraq’s capabilities ahead of the 2003 invasion. For example, he revives the point that Iraq was officially thought to have “up to 12” Scud missles – which became “up to 20” in the September dossier.
Ross also highlights flaws in a paper sent to the Parliamentary Labour Party by then foreign secretary Jack Straw to drum up support from MPs.
The paper claimed that “if Iraq’s weapons programmes remain unchecked, Iraq could develop a crude nuclear device in about five years.” As Ross points out, the government’s assessment hitherto had been more or less the opposite, ie, “if controls (sanctions) are lifted, then Iraq could develop a crude nuclear device in about five years.” In other words it believed that sanctions were preventing Iraq from developing a nuclear capacity.
The head of Non-Proliferation Department sent a minute to Jack Straw’s special adviser pointing out the discrepancy. This was ignored; the paper was later circulated to the cabinet.
Ross also points out that the paper included “scare-mongering claims“, for example that “less than a teaspoon of anthrax can kill over a million people“. This glossed over the fact that anthrax is notoriously difficult to weaponize and deliver effectively.
The written evidence also includes a corker of Whitehall double-speak. Ross says that before 9/11 there was no mention in policy documents of a rising threat from Iraq. If anything those documents discuss the difficulty of maintaining sanctions given the absence of evidence of WMD violations, he argues.
“Post 9/11, the prevailing FCO view is summed up in a minute from the political director to the foreign secretary on 22 March 2002 to the effect that the assessment of Iraq’s WMD capability had not changed in recent years, but that the UK reaction to that assessment had changed.”
Paul Waugh, who was at the hearing, has more on this.
* Ross resigned in the summer of 2002, long before war broke out.