Comment at end
Tuesday, 24th November, 2009
NOT THE SIX O’CLOCK NEWS
HEADLINES: ‘BLAIR DID NOT GO ALONG WITH THE BUSH (& CLINTON) RUMBLINGS OVER IRAQ’
So how did our great, honest and principled broadcasting outlets deal with this bit of news?
If you watched any of the Iraq Inquiry today you will know that it was fairly – well, unexciting. I wouldn’t say “boring” as did Radio 4’s PM programme, but it was hardly a skewering Blair job, which is its only purpose for many. But watching the BBC news at 6:00pm you’d be forgiven for concluding that all the Blair haters had in one fell swoop been vindicated.
In fact they had been nothing of the sort.
Today it was the early period, from 2000, that was being looked at. It seems that in the USA there had been ‘regime change’ talk regarding Iraq, even towards the end of Clinton’s time in office.
One witness, Sir Peter Ricketts, a top intelligence official at the time, said it was assumed it was not “our policy” despite growing talk in the US. He also said, “While there were “voices” in Washington calling for Saddam to be removed even before the Bush administration came to power in early 2001, this did not result in a change to the longstanding policy of trying to contain Iraq through sanctions”.
And Sir William Patey, then head of the Middle East Department at the Foreign Office, said the UK had been aware “of the drumbeats from Washington” when it came to regime change but wanted to “stay away from that end of the spectrum”.
BLAIR THE NON-WARMONGERING ‘WARMONGER’
So you might think that at least for today, the first day of the Iraq Inquiry, Tony Blair was in the clear. He was NOT ‘warmongering’, in fact quite the opposite! Did the news report lead with this? Not on your life! While hinting that Blair and Bush had probably been planning earlier than we were told to attack Iraq, the BBC showed us some pictures of a few placard holders.
Plus ca change.
Oh, save us from the press, the brainwashed and their need for a catchy, simplistic headline.
Impact of 9/11
However, Sir Peter said there was no-one in the UK government in 2001 “promoting or supporting” regime change, as it was assumed “it was not our policy that we were seeking the removal of Saddam Hussein”.
While there were “voices” in Washington calling for Saddam to be removed even before the Bush administration came to power in early 2001, this did not result in a change to the longstanding policy of trying to contain Iraq through sanctions, he said.
Sir William Patey, then head of the Middle East Department at the Foreign Office, said the UK had been aware “of the drumbeats from Washington” when it came to regime change but wanted to “stay away from that end of the spectrum”.
Sir William – now ambassador to Saudi Arabia – acknowledged that international support for the sanctions policy in place against Iraq since 1991 – which underpinned the policy of containment – was steadily breaking down at the time.
However, asked whether this policy – which critics said was ineffective and which was actually hurting the Iraqi people – could have “kept Saddam caged” indefinitely, he replied “possibly”.
Focusing on the impact of the 9/11 attacks on British policy, Sir Peter said it “added an edge” to existing concerns about Iraq seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction beyond any international control.
Despite there being no evidence of a direct link between al-Qaeda and Iraq, Sir Peter said there was a “tone of voice” in Washington after 9/11 that there would be “major implications” for Iraq if that was the case.
US priorities after 9/11 remained al-Qaeda and Afghanistan, he said, but it became clear by the end of the year that the so-called war on terror was moving into a second, as yet, “undefined” phase.
“It was clear from late autumn  that Iraq was being considered in a different light in light of the 9/11 attacks,” he said.
But he said he did not “recall” any conversations with British ministers or policy discussions in Whitehall about regime change at that stage.
Other officials who gave evidence on Tuesday were former senior Ministry of Defence official Simon Webb and ex-Foreign Office legal adviser Sir Michael Wood.
In his opening statement, inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot said the panel had an “open mind” about the UK’s involvement in the Iraq conflict and its aftermath.
1. Wales Online tells us SOME of the business re talk of regime change in 2001 and that Britain rejected the idea as being unlawful. But they forgot to tell us that the same kinds of rumblings had even been heard during the Clinton regime. Oh, how forgetful. That would be like telling is that Obama too might consider freedom worth fighting for. Wake up, press. Your bias is showing.
2. From Christian Scientist Monitor
Antiwar protesters outside the inquiry this morning said cynically that Blair, who is expected to testify before the inquiry early next year, would be given “a warm welcome” when he appears.
“We’re here to remind people that Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and George W. Bush are not innocent and that they should face charges for war crimes,” said Elly Badcock.
GOOD OLD BRITISH OPEN-MINDEDNESS HERE THEN, EH?
3. Voice of America – “Peter Ricketts says UK officials became aware months before 9/11 terrorist attacks of Bush administration plans to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein .
A former top British intelligence officer says British officials decided in 2001 against participating in talks with U.S. officials about regime change in Iraq.
Peter Ricketts, now permanent secretary at the Home Office, spoke Tuesday at the opening of a long-awaited public inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war.
Ricketts said British officials were aware months before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States that the Bush administration was pressing for the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He noted the U.S. rhetoric – particularly an article published by then-U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice discussing the overthrow of Saddam – but said it did not seem like a draft of an operations plan.”
Sir John Chilcott, far right, arrives with Britain’s Lord Butler, second right, and the team, left to right, Ann Taylor, Michael Mates and Lord Inge for a news conference in London on July 14, 2004 to release their report on Britain’s pre-war intelligence about Iraq’s weaponry. (Matthew Fearn/Reuters)