Britain never thought Saddam was threat - diplomat
· UK warned US that chaos would follow tyrant's fall
· Evidence repudiates claims in run-up to war
Saturday December 16, 2006
The British government never believed Saddam Hussein posed a threat to British interests and warned the US that toppling him would lead to "chaos", according to a Foreign Office diplomat closely involved in negotiations in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
Damning repudiation of the government's public claims in the run-up to the war is contained in secret evidence to Lord Butler's committee on the abuse of intelligence over Iraq by Carne Ross, a diplomat at Britain's UN mission in New York.
His evidence, in which he says the government privately assessed that Iraq possessed no significant quantity of weapons of mass destruction, has been published on the Commons foreign affairs committee website. Mr Ross gave evidence to the group last month but some MPs had been reluctant to have it published.
Mr Ross told Lord Butler he read UK and US human and signals intelligence on Iraq every working day during the four years he spent in New York up to 2002, and spoke at length to UN weapons inspectors.
"At no time did [the government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK," he told the Butler committee. "On the contrary, it was the commonly-held view among the officials dealing with Iraq that any threat had been effectively contained ... At the same time, we would frequently argue, when the US raised the subject, that 'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos."
Mr Ross continued: "There was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material. Aerial or satellite surveillance was unable to get under the roofs of Iraqi facilities. We therefore had to rely on inherently unreliable human sources."
He added: "Iraq's ability to launch a WMD or any form of attack was very limited. There were approximately 12 or so unaccounted-for Scud missiles; Iraq's airforce was depleted to the point of total ineffectiveness; its army was but a pale shadow of its earlier might; there was no evidence of any connection with any terrorist organisation that might have planned an attack using Iraqi WMD."
Mr Ross said he repeatedly questioned FO and Ministry of Defence officials about their threat assessments of Iraq. He said: "None told me that any new evidence had emerged to change our assessment; what had changed was the government's determination to present available evidence in a different light." Referring to the government's weapons adviser who later committed suicide, he added: "I discussed this at some length with David Kelly in late 2002, who agreed that the Number 10 WMD dossier was overstated".
He said colleagues in other UN delegations told him the UK sold security council resolution 1441 - later used to help justify the invasion - "explicitly on the grounds that it did not represent authorisation for war".
Mr Ross, who was responsible at the UK's UN mission for sanctions as well as weapons inspections, said he and his FO colleagues repeatedly attempted to get the UK and US to act more vigorously on the breaches.
Mr Ross resigned from the FO in 2004.
Sir John Major, the former prime minister, backed calls for an independent inquiry into the causes and conduct of the war. It should include "new information that is becoming available", he told Radio 4's Today.http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1973311,00.html