Iraq Inquiry: 24th day of public hearings with Jonathan Powell

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    19th January 2010

    This is a cross-post with thanks to Julie here

    Iraq Inquiry: 24th day of public hearings with Jonathan Powell

    By Julie

    Yesterday, another very crucial and interesting hearing took place when Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former Chief of Staff, gave evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry.


    These are the most significant quotes from the twenty-fourth session of the Iraq Inquiry

    You can read the full transcript of the session here

    And you can watch the video here

    24th day of public hearings

    18th  of January 2010: Afternoon session: Evidence

    • Jonathan Powell (Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, from 2001 until 2007)


    “I think it worked more effectively than in some previous Downing Streets, because we were able to bring together the policy and the press, the Civil Service and the domestic when we needed to do so. That’s why people like Alastair Campbell or Sally Morgan would be involved in meetings, even on things like Iraq, to make sure that there was a political point of view as well as a Civil Service point of view.”

    “The Prime Minister said repeatedly to President Bush that if Saddam complied with the UN Resolutions, then there would not be any invasion and President Bush agreed with him on that. I noted down three particular occasions in April 2002 at the meeting in Crawford sorry, 6 April 2002 at Crawford, at Camp David on 7 September of that year and a phone call in October, and, again, as late as 19 February 2003. So the Prime Minister was saying, “We are with you. We need to go down the UN route, but that does not necessarily mean war. It may well be that Saddam could comply well short of war.”

    “There was a huge demonstration against the war and it made a big impression on us. We could see the possibility of the Prime Minister losing his job in March as a result of this. I remember Andrew Turnbull used to regularly pop into my office in that period and ask me for the Labour Party rules on a change of Prime Minister, which wasn’t altogether encouraging. So we knew there was a huge political opposition to this, we knew there were alternative arguments, and the Prime Minister, ironically Tony Blair, ironically had been accused of being a politician who followed focus groups in the earlier part of his political career. At this stage he decided to do something that was unpopular because he thought it was right, and he stuck to his convictions on that and that’s what he did.”


    Important exchanges#

    CHAIRMAN: “So turning to another and broader machinery point, much has been written about so called “sofa government”, and I do put that in quotation marks, characterised, perhaps not unfairly, with informality and, indeed, a degree of intimacy with close and trusted advisers and colleagues, and, on the other side, people have asked, “Is there some risk of exclusion of other colleagues still holding and sharing heavy responsibility?”, but in particular asking, “Did that mean that action following such discussions characterised to some degree by informality, action points might be lost or lost in translation, as it were, into the government machine?” Would you like to comment on that?”

    POWELL: “Yes. We had this criticism of sofa government. I think it is actually misplaced. I don’t think it matters whether a meeting takes place in the Cabinet room, where John Major used to hold meetings, or in the sitting room, where Mrs Thatcher or Tony Blair used to hold their meetings. I think the key thing is that you have the right people there, the people who need to be involved in a decision, that they are properly informed, have the proper material before them, already all in written form, and that decisions are taken, then recorded, and then distributed to government to be followed up. As long as that happens, I think it doesn’t really matter if someone is sitting on a sofa or sitting round a table.”

    PRASHAR: “It wasn’t. What were the Prime Minister’s expectations and instructions to you in relation to Iraq after 9/11? What do you think was in his mind?”

    POWELL: “Well, I think 9/11 changed everything for the United States. I remember George Bush telling us subsequently that he had been actually looking at a paper on smart sanctions on the day of 9/11 and thinking about Iraq in the context of what one would do in terms of containment. 9/11 I think changed everything for the Americans. They saw it as a Pearl Harbour of the 21st Century. They were being attacked at home and they could no longer tolerate threats overseas and just wait for them to happen. They had to be prepared, and that made them much more willing to be preemptive. If you remember at the time of the Chicago speech in 1998 that the Prime Minister made, the speech was criticised at the time by a young Republican academic, at Stanford University for proposing that America should spend its blood and treasure overseas on foreign issues. That academic was Condi Rice. So this administration came to power not intending to spend a lot of time overseas, they were intending to focus on domestic issues, but 9/11 really changed that for them.”

    PRASHAR: “So you would say there was a real shift in their thinking. What were their priorities after 9/11? Because you said you had very close connections with the States.”

    POWELL: “Well, you remember that the Prime Minister spoke to the phone to President Bush the day after 9/11 and then went to see him shortly thereafter. On both occasions, President Bush raised the issue of Iraq immediately after 9/11. The Prime Minister advised him that we should not consider Iraq at this stage. This was an issue about Afghanistan and AlQaeda and the focus should be entirely on them. When we saw President Bush on 20 September, he agreed with that and he said he was the one who would make decisions on this issue in Washington and the focus would be on Afghanistan and AlQaeda.”

    PRASHAR: “We have heard from different witnesses about the development of the UK policy, in late 2001/2002. Some have said that containment was dead as a viable policy in the aftermath of 9/11, and that, before Crawford, the UK policy had, in effect, shifted, and others have said that this was kind of a gradual evolution of policy and that containment remained UK policy in the first part of 2002. Which was it?”

    POWELL:Containment was dying in 2001. I mean, remember the context for us on Iraq. We had started dealing with Iraq in 1998 in government when we bombed Iraq together with President Clinton’s administration. Iraq was not a new subject to us. After that, there had been a long wrangle trying to get inspectors back into Iraq. We had wrestled with Saddam, who had played every trick possible. The reason, in 2001, that people were looking at smart sanctions was because sanctions weren’t working. They were hurting the wrong people. People were really suffering in Iraq as a result. Saddam was cheating and getting what he needed out of it. Support for sanctions was disappearing. There was no way we could continue containment on the same basis as we had before.”

    PRASHAR:But the point really is it seems, or it is alleged, that we had given a kind of unconditional commitment that we would be with them regardless. Against that background, how was it feasible that they would actually pay much attention to those sort of conditions or the influence we were trying to exercise?”

    POWELL: “Yes, that’s a misunderstanding that I noticed had been put to this Committee a short while ago. I was at Crawford, David Manning was at Crawford, Christopher Meyer was not at Crawford. He was at Waco, about 30 miles away. The Prime Minister gave us an account of his conversation with the President and the Prime Minister the previous evening. We were there from the morning, and most of the discussion with the President then was on the Middle East, but they also recapped their discussion of Iraq. There was no undertaking in blood to go into war on Iraq. There was no firm decision to go on war. In fact, if the record which was sent to Christopher Meyer of that meeting says Bush acknowledged the possibility that Saddam would allow inspectors in and let them go about that business. If that happened, we would have to adjust our approach accordingly. So it was absolutely clear we were not signing up for a war on this, we were signing up for going down the UN route and giving Saddam a chance to comply.

    PRASHAR: “But military options were discussed?””

    POWELL: “I don’t recall them getting into any sort of discussion of military options. We agreed that a cell could go to CentCom and discuss the planning that was going on there, but I don’t think we talked about military options. I think the Prime Minister’s message to the President was: if you are going to do this, you have got to do it in the most intelligent manner possible, like after Afghanistan, like after 9/11. You have got to put this on a political track. You have got to build support. You have got to go down the UN route. You have got to exhaust that UN route and you have got to give Saddam a chance to comply. That was his message again and again at Crawford.”

    FREEDMAN: “Let’s talk about the Prime Minister’s approach. When you were talking about Crawford, you said if you the Prime Minister is saying to the President, “If you are going to do this”, meaning Bush, and then suggesting things about how it could be done better. Was it the case that the Prime Minister was also keen on the objective?”

    POWELL: “Yes, the Prime Minister was always clear that the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein. I think he was always clear on that from the very beginning, even back to the time of President Clinton.”

    FREEDMAN:”How did the Prime Minister at the time envisage that this might be achieved?”

    POWELL: “Well, I think he thought the best way to pursue this, as with Afghanistan, would be to go down the UN route to try and give Saddam every chance to comply, but, if he didn’t, to build a wide coalition to deal with him.”

    FREEDMAN: “The first of the Chicago conditions was: are we sure of our case? At this time, were you sure of the case? Were there any doubts in your mind about the aspects of the case relating to weapons of mass destruction or was that separate to the case relating to the desirability of getting rid of Saddam Hussein?”

    POWELL: “No, I had no doubts about weapons of mass destruction, and I think rather too much emphasis has been put on intelligence for why I believed that. Why anyone believed that. Again, if you go back into the context of our government, when Tony Blair formed his government, we were dealing with an Iraqi regime that had had weapons of mass destruction, had used weapons of mass destruction, had lied about getting rid of weapons of mass destruction, had been caught out lying by the defection of his son in law. They had had to admit the existence of biological weapons. So the reason we bombed Iraq in 1998, together with the Clinton administration, was that we believed they had weapons of mass destruction. So it would have taken something pretty dramatic to persuade us that he had got rid of those weapons. So, yes, I absolutely believed that he had weapons of mass destruction.”

    FREEDMAN: “How did this issue relate to regime change? As you know, there has been a lot of discussion that suggests that this particular issue was believed, but it was just one aspect of the various charges that could be laid against Saddam Hussein, and that there was a much broader issue that it would be much better just to get rid of the man, and, if that issue didn’t exist, then another one could be found.”

    POWELL: ”As I said a few moments ago, I think you can believe that it is good to get rid of a dictator, and, as a progressive as a socialist, I believe getting rid of fascist dictators is a good thing. You can believe that about Burma, or about North Korea, or about Zimbabwe, but not be able to do anything about it. In Iraq, the case was that he was in breach of UN Resolutions on weapons of mass destruction. The will of the UN had to be enforced and that was the case for action in Iraq. Those two things are perfectly compatible, you can believe them at the same time.”

    POWELL: “Can I just say something else about that speech, because I notice that Christopher Meyer suggested that in some way this speech was developing a new policy on Iraq. I was very surprised when he said that, so I went to have look at the speech, and I can’t find any reference here to regime change in Iraq. I helped draft the speech. We certainly had no intention of changing policy on regime change in Iraq”

    FREEDMAN: “The passage on regime change comes before the passage on Iraq.”

    POWELL: “Yes, but if we had been intending to say something about this, we would have (a) said it and (b) made sure that everyone noticed that we’d said it, as opposed to only Christopher Meyer noticing that we’d said it. So there certainly was no intention to change policy with that speech, and, in fact, what is interesting, and what sticks in my mind, was the worry we had going into the press conference at Crawford that we had different position on regime change from President Bush. We spent some time discussing how could we avoid there being a breach, a gap between what the two said about regime change. This is on the British side, we discussed how to avoid that. So on the contrary from trying to change our position on regime change, we were worried about how we wouldn’t reveal to public discussion a huge gulf between us.”

    FREEDMAN: “Can I just clarify what compliance would mean? This goes back to evidence that we have heard from, say, Tim Dowse and Sir William Ehrman and others. If you if

    Saddam had allowed inspectors in, which was the main demand of the time, it was by no means certain that things would be found, what sort of guarantees would have been required for it to have been considered that Saddam Hussein had complied? How would we know?”

    POWELL: “This was something that became very live in the later stages at the end of the year and the beginning of 2003, and it is the distinction between active compliance or active cooperation and passive cooperation, and Hans Blix was telling us, in 2002, something rather different than he says now, but at the time he was saying to us there was not active cooperation. They hadn’t changed their attitude. They were still trying to hide things, even though they had allowed inspectors in.”

    FREEDMAN: “Did you see Iraq having any links with those sorts of terrorist groups?”

    POWELL: “No, we spent quite a long time disagreeing with the Americans about the link between AlQaeda and Saddam.”

    FREEDMAN: “So there was a hypothetical issue that a country producing weapons of mass destruction might at some point link them with terrorists, but and AQ Khan network was the connection with Pakistan was something to be worried about, but Iraq wasn’t necessarily one of those countries?”

    POWELL:No, the worry with Saddam was that he would, if sanctions stopped, be able to develop weapons of mass destruction faster and be able to find ways of deploying them. So the worry with Saddam was not the link with AlQaeda.”

    FREEDMAN: “So what you are saying is that you have the issue that was always pushed to the fore, that this is a country in violation of Security Council Resolutions, that this was a bad thing in itself, but that but it also gave you a opportunity to deal with one of a number of threats, that you wouldn’t have had with other countries.”

    POWELL: “Yes, the United Kingdom by itself has no capacity to deal with any of these threats, it can only do so in conjunction with a superpower like the United States.”

    FREEDMAN: “This may be true, but there is one thing to step up your diplomacy and eventually go to war on the basis of a plausible working hypothesis. It is another thing, when you have got hard evidence that the international community is being deceived, lied to and that in fact something which is said not to be there, is actually there. So if the Prime Minister had said, “We don’t know, but this is what we think”, would that have had the same impact on public and international opinion?”

    POWELL: “There was a reason that most people thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction at that stage. That was that he had had them, he had used them, we bombed him because we thought he had them. In 1998 we didn’t bomb him in doubt that he had weapons of mass destruction. We didn’t say to try and force the inspectors back in to complete the”

    FREEDMAN: “This is true, but all through the 1990s, the inspectors had been at work. In the early 1990s, they had dismantled most of the nuclear capability. You referred to what had happened in 1995, with the revelations about biological weapons, but then a whole series of materials was found as a result of that. So that, although it was the case that he had lied, things had happened, there had been a pretty intensive pressure on his weapons of mass destruction programme throughout the 1990s. So to say that, because of the past, you could assume it was still there, doesn’t give much credit to what had been done through the 1990s.”

    POWELL: “It does, because, of course, the whole point was that Saddam had cheated, was caught out when his soninlaw defected. Had to confess to the biological programme. The inspectors went back in to try dismantle that, and the inspectors at that time had concluded that there was still a large amount of material that hadn’t been decommissioned. I note, for example, on 6 September 2002, when Blix came to see the Prime Minister, he said that Saddam had not met his obligations for full and frank disarmament. There was no evidence he had destroyed his biological weapons. 10,000litres was still unaccounted for of anthrax, and there could be much more. So there were reasons to believe he still had weapons of mass destruction.”

    LYNE: “So you don’t recall the Prime Minister being advised to refrain from committing himself fully to the Americans and advised to really press very hard on these points before he committed himself fully to the Americans?”

    POWELL:” I have seen some things said subsequently about the suggested failure of the Prime Minister to be sufficiently assertive with the Americans. I think that is just plain wrong. I think the reason that the Prime Minister had many of his meetings with President Bush by himself, one on one, was to try and press him very firmly to move in these directions, and he was successful in doing so on a number of counts. So I think the notion that we weren’t assertive enough was wrong. I think the idea of putting these forward as preconditions would have been a mistake too. We were suggesting a way of doing this in an intelligent way that would succeed, and that’s the reason we set out the framework we set out at Crawford, repeated in the note in July, and repeated again at Camp David in September.”

    LYNE: “If we just turn to the very end of the process, Alastair Campbell, the other day, talking about the period in late March the second half of March 2003, when the UN Security Council draft resolution was withdrawn and then the coalition went to war. He said that, at that point, diplomacy had failed. Had diplomacy definitively failed by then?”

    POWELL:”I think diplomacy had definitively failed by 14 March 2003. We put a particularly intensive bout of diplomatic activity in place in March. We had asked President Bush to have more time to try and build the coalition. When we looked as if we were getting nowhere on the second resolution, we then tried the idea of establishing five tests built on the clusters document, and we particularly spent a lot of the time trying to persuade the Chileans and the Mexicans to support this. We had gone to the length of putting in a Brent secure telephone into the presidential palace in Chile so we could speak to the President there privately while the Prime Minister was at Hillsborough dealing with Northern Ireland. We put an enormous amount of effort in. A number of times the President told us he was secure that we could get our nine votes in the Security Council, and we really, really tried to get it, but by the time we had got to 14 March, the French pulled the plug by saying they would veto the UN Resolution, we no longer had any negotiating leverage with the Mexicans and the Chileans. The Mexican President retired to hospital and stopped taking telephone calls and the Chilean made it clear he wouldn’t move without the Mexican.”

    LYNE: “So we had completely exhausted the UN route by then?”

    POWELL:I think by the time we got to 16 March, we had faced a binary choice; we no longer could keep on down the UN route. “

    LYNE: “I mean, Sir David Manning and Sir Jeremy Greenstock both said, but differently, that they would have liked to have had more time, but you don’t agree with that?”

    POWELL:” No, we asked for more time repeatedly from January onwards of the President, and we got more time in each case. Eventually, by the time we got to mid March, he wasn’t going to give us more time and the French veto knocked any chance.”

    LYNE: “He wasn’t going to give us more time. If we had had more time, if the inspectors had had longer, there had been longer to build up the picture and you had continued these extraordinary diplomatic efforts that you described, would there not have been a chance, at that stage, of actually gathering the international support that we had not managed to gather by then?”

    POWELL: “No. I mean, if you think about it, Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. We were wrong. The intelligence was wrong. So, no matter how long you had carried the inspections on, they weren’t going to find anything, and, from what we know of Saddam, it is extremely unlikely that he would have cooperated. So we would have been in exactly the same situation for months and months and months. There would have been no discovery of weapons of mass destruction, but”

    LYNE: “But one way or the other they might have built up a more convincing picture, if they had had more time.”

    POWELL: “A convincing picture of what?”

    LYNE: “Well, a picture to convince the people who weren’t not convinced by our arguments in March.”

    POWELL: “But if there weren’t weapons of mass destruction, we wouldn’t have been able you

    are asking me in retrospect, “Would we have had more time?” The answer is more time would have achieved nothing.”

    FREEDMAN: “Can I just come in on that? Lord Turnbull suggested there was a sort of a trap that we thought we had set for Saddam Hussein, that either he could comply, in which case he would lose the weapons that he wanted, or he wouldn’t comply, in which case he had given us the cases for military action. This trap depended to a large extent on Hans Blix. It depended on the inspectors saying that there is no compliance. Now, in January 2003, that is what Hans Blix said, but by February that advice was changing, certainly in terms of his presentation to the UN Security Council. So isn’t that a turning point, where there is a shift in how this issue is going to beviewed? So it is not necessarily the case that this issue would have gone on and on and on, because already there had been a change of view in UNMOVIC?”

    POWELL: “No, I don’t think that is right. It is true that the two reports were different from Blix, but, even in March, Blix was not suggesting that Saddam was cooperating. The issue of interviews of being able to take people away from Saddam’s secret police to interview them and ask them about weapons of mass destruction was a very live one. So I don’t think it is as if everything was going the other way to prove that Saddam was cooperating, no.”

    FREEDMAN: “But he had already had a sort of clean bill of health from the on the nuclear side. So that issue already had been dealt with. So the trend was pretty clear, that there had been an expectation, perhaps unrealistic, of some sort of smoking gun. It hadn’t been found. The tenor of Hans Blix’s remarks were changing, and, therefore, it was going to become much more difficult to generate the international support that might have been there if the tenor of the January remarks had continued.

    POWELL: “You are right to distinguish between the two reports, but, no, I don’t think I guess you are suggesting that action happened because we were worried it was running away from us in the UN.´”

    FREEDMAN: “No. I’m saying that it isn’t necessarily the case that nothing would have changed in a number of months on. There had been movement. We had evidence that the British Government had given the inspectors a number of sites to look at, some of them had shown up things, a bit of nuclear information, something on missiles where he clearly was in breach, but a number of others hadn’t and there were other sites to go through. It doesn’t seem to be wholly likely that another few months of that would have left you in exactly the same position you were in the middle of March.”

    POWELL: “I mean, just looking at it from now, I don’t see how things would have changed from the point of view of inspections. I think that you might have had more time and you might have discovered a few more marginal things, you might have discovered nothing, but Saddam was clear, when he was interrogated, that he was not going to cooperate, because he wanted people to think he still had weapons of mass destruction. So you could have carried this game on indefinitely without satisfying either side, either the Americans or those who were against action. So I think more time for inspections wouldn’t really have solved the problem. There is another argument, which is more time for diplomacy and that, was, in particular, what we had asked for, and we got more time, but, in the end, the diplomatic approach ran into the sand. We set the ultimatum, we set the five tests, but we couldn’t get the support for it that we wanted as a way of forcing Saddam to choose one way or the other.”

    CHAIRMAN: “Because we come after 1441, after November, to the pursuit of the second UN Resolution, how far was that because of legal concerns about the sufficiency of 1441 standing on its own to provide a legal base for military action and how far was it, as it were, the pursuit of essentially diplomatic, political objectives, to bind in as much and more of the international community?”

    POWELL: “The Prime Minister set this out in his contacts with President Bush, where he said the purpose of the second resolution, which we eventually persuaded the Americans to follow at the end of January 2003, was to build a wider coalition to get the political support you needed for the attack. It was principally primarily to get a politicalwide coalition.”

    CHAIRMAN: “Is it clearly understood in Number 10 by the Prime Minister, by his closest advisers, at this time, that, without the Attorney General’s, in effect, certificate of legality not legitimacy, but legality the military, and, indeed, civilian administration in our country would not go to war?”

    POWELL: “It was very well understood. As I said, at 20 January 2002, David Manning was making exactly this point to Condi Rice.”

    CHAIRMAN: “The government would not want it to be stopped in its tracks, so he is carrying a very heavy burden of responsibility and experiencing a very heavy pressure of persuasion?”

    POWELL: “No. It wasn’t I mean, you are not able to bully the Attorney General, but he was bearing a very heavy burden of decision, absolutely.

    GILBERT: “With regard to the wider aspects of aftermath planning, basically governance, reconstruction and governance, we have heard a certain amount about the conflict within the United States policy, effectively that considerable planning that had been done by the State Department and then the switch of that responsibility to the Department of Defence. To what extent were you aware of these disputes, and how far were you able to insert what you knew about American policy into our own postwar planning?”

    POWELL:” I think, in retrospect, it was clearly a mistake to allow postwar planning to remain with the Department of Defence, with the Pentagon and Donald Rumsfeld. I think you will find many in the American administration at the time who will accept that shouldn’t have happened. The State Department had done the planning, they were probably better able at running things and it should have been left in the State Department and not taken away. As a junior coalition member, we weren’t in a position to force that to happen, although we did raise it with the White House and make the point that it should they should have looked at doing it in another way, but that it didn’t, in the end, happen”

    GILBERT: “You tell us, having been the generator, as it were, of many of these files, what your own advice was, particularly with regards to security and with the both the security services in Iraq, and, more particularly, the police, how you saw their role.”

    POWELL: “Yes, I think the problem was that, as I say, we had anticipated Sunni/Shia violence. What we had not anticipated was either the scale of that violence, the blowing up of the mosque, the retaliatory attacks, and nor had we anticipated the engagement of AlQaeda and of the Iranians into this battle, which made it a lot worse. I remember the Prime Minister asking military chiefs in 2007, would they have been able to cope with the insurgency, had it not been for the intervention of AlQaeda and the Iranians, and them saying, absolutely, they would have been able to manage in those circumstances.”

    GILBERT: “What did you feel was the problem with public opinion at that time, in terms of “

    POWELL:” I think they felt that Iraq was hopeless, that we were never going to succeed, that we had been there a long time, a lot of people had died and we were never going to achieve our ends.”

    GILBERT: “And it was not felt at Downing Street that it was hopeless, so how did you address this?”

    POWELL: “There is a very important point here, which is whether the West has staying power in these sort of conflicts, most notably Afghanistan. You know, we showed in Bosnia and in Rwanda what happens when you don’t intervene. We showed in Kosovo what happens if you intervene quickly or Sierra Leone and succeed. Afghanistan and Iraq are a different case. They are cases where we have intervened, where it has taken a very, very long time, where you do not get success and you lose support, and in those circumstances the fundamental question is: are we prepared to stay for those long conflicts or do we give up? That’s what I felt. We had to get across the sense, this is painful, it is bloody, but in the end we can succeed, and if you look at Iraq now, it is true that Iraq is now in a much better situation than it was at the time of Saddam: the violence is right down, the economy is succeeding, people are in a much better position.”

    GILBERT: “Finally, with regard to your belief that we had a responsibility for the whole of Iraq, and that its future was, therefore I mean, it was not just the future of Basra or the southern governance that was our concern how do you assess our achievement, in retrospect?”

    POWELL: “Well, I think it is too early to tell really yet what the overall historical judgment will be on Iraq. I think in ten years’ time/15 years’ time we will have a better assessment of what has really happened in Iraq. But I do notice that, as I said earlier, things are a lot better in Iraq now. If you look at the security attacks, the graph goes like this, up to its ghastly crescendo, and then down to a lower level now than at the beginning of the conflict. The economy is doing much better and, above all, people have democratic elections, with another one coming this year, and the last one having 80 per cent participation. I think that’s something worth fighting for, yes.”

    CHAIRMAN: “Right. There are all sorts of followup final questions but I have got one or two of my own, so, selfishly, I’m going to raise those and then turn to my colleagues. I suppose the first one is, coming back to the postconflict planning, there was a distinction between the humanitarian planning there was foreseen the possibility, which mercifully did not eventuate, of warfare, including WMDs, with humanitarian consequences. There was not the humanitarian crisis, though it has been argued by some witnesses that were because of the action that was taken both by the coalition and indeed by the NGOs early on. What does seem to be clear, however this is the question: how far was the Prime Minister’s mind and how far were his advisers pointing his mind to the need actively to consider the different scenarios that might arise in postconflict Iraq, since that would inevitably be the real test, after the conflict was over, of success for the strategy or otherwise? We know that in February 2003 the Prime Minister’s mind is directed to it. That’s terribly late. So what about the longish

    period before that?”

    POWELL: “Yes, I mean, there were a series of meetings on this earlier, even before February, not involving the Prime Minister, but planning meetings and the Prime Minister commissioning papers and what have you. But, as I said, I don’t think and I think things could be done better and it is well worth looking at the lessons that could be learned from all of this. But I don’t think we should kid ourselves to think that that would have been the solution for Iraq because the issue was the security issue and unless we had a way of dealing with that, it is difficult to see how we would have achieved the rest.”

    LYNE:” I’m wondering what views got through to him that disagreed with the course that he was getting on to, and particularly views informed by people who might have forecast the trouble that was going to happen. I mean, Jeremy Greenstock referred to the Egyptian ambassador at the UN, subsequently Egyptian Foreign Minister, accurately warning that there would be considerable violence after this event. Did that kind of viewpoint ever get before the Prime Minister?”

    POWELL:” As I said earlier, leaders in the Arab world were saying very different things to different people about this. Many of them were saying, “If you act very speedily, with maximum force, then this will be solved very quickly.” They weren’t necessarily warning of those dangers. And what our ambassadors were warning in post was that there was a rising on the Arab street against the coalition, and that actually didn’t happen, that wasn’t the problem; the problem was the scale of the violence inside Iraq and the addition of AlQaeda and Iran, which made it so difficult to manage for so long.”

    LYNE: “But we did end up, we and the Americans, having made a major miscalculation of what actually was going to happen after Saddam Hussein was toppled. Are you saying that there is no way that could have been avoided?”

    POWELL: “Well, the only way you could have avoided it is by not having the war. By foreseeing it, what could you have done differently, apart from more troops, a better strategy and talking to the Sunnis, which were the three things I had been suggesting.”

    LYNE: “If you had foreseen it, it might indeed have changed the calculus about whether or not military action, or military action on that timing or in that form, was the right policy?”

    POWELL: “You certainly would have thought very hard about it, but I don’t think you would want, either, to run away from the threat of AlQaeda, saying that they were going to say, if you put it the other way and AlQaeda had threatened at that stage, “If you go into Iraq, we are going to fight you on every front we can,” would that have made you stop doing it, that you were going to run way away from AlQaeda’s threat in those circumstances? I don’t think so. On the other hand, looking back, the tragic death of so many people perhaps as many as 20,000 killed by AlQaeda suicide bombers is a horrific thing, and I think that’s very hard to live with.”

    LYNE: “On AlQaeda, they weren’t, of course, in Iraq before the conflict; the conflict created a new theatre for AlQaeda. So, from the point of view of the combat with AlQaeda, did the conflict help or did it actually make things worse?”

    POWELL: “Make which aspect of it worse? They killed more people.”

    LYNE: “The fact that AlQaeda had an additional cause the conflict in Iraq they poured a lot of forces into it, they recruited people in Iraq. Did that not make the war against terrorism on a larger scale than it had been before 2003?”

    POWELL: “I am not sure that’s right. If you look at the war on terrorism now, it is in Afghanistan and in Pakistan and in Yemen; it does move around. I actually think one thing we haven’t talked about would have made a big difference, and that is in the Middle East. If we had achieved more in the Middle East, to put it in a different place that would have removed a cause that AlQaeda exploit they don’t believe in it but they exploit it and if we had had the opportunity to try and remove that, we would have been in a far better place. Now, we did persuade the Americans to produce a road map, we did persuade them to opt for the two state solution, but they didn’t deliver as we’d hoped and as they gave us reason to expect might happen: a Madrid conference, such as had followed the first Gulf War, or an envoy, permanently dealing with this problem, or indeed what President Bush said when he came to Hillsborough in Northern Ireland, where he had a joint press conference with the Prime Minister in which he said he would devote as much time and as much effort to the Middle East as the Prime Minister had to Northern Ireland. I think, if those things had happened, we would have found ourselves in a different place.”

    PRASHAR: “Mr Powell, in response to an earlier question, you said that the commitment given by Prime Minister Blair at the time to George Bush, that he is with him no matter what, was a tactical move. If that was the case, then why did he, in a recent interview on television, say that he would have gone to war even if there was no WMD, for actual regime change, and he would have deployed different arguments?”

    POWELL: “Well, it was the point I was trying to make earlier, which is that I can believe, as I firmly do, that it would be a good thing to remove the Burmese regime, or to remove Mugabe in Zimbabwe. However, that is not the same as being able to do that, even if I were Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I do not have the military means to do it and I do not have the legal base to do it. So I can believe that it is right to get rid of Saddam or right to get rid of Mugabe. I have the right to pursue that aim but I can’t pursue it by military means unless there is a legal base and support for doing it, and those two points you can have simultaneously in your mind without any conflict, in my opinion.”

    PRASHAR: “So that’s your opinion?”

    POWELL: “Yes.”

    PRASHAR:That there is no conflict in those two positions?”

    POWELL: “No. I think there is a sort of misunderstanding about the two the wish to be rid of a dictator and the ability to be rid of a dictator.”

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    2 Responses to “Iraq Inquiry: 24th day of public hearings with Jonathan Powell”

    1. Julie Says:

      Thanks for using my summaries, B.

      It’s the only way to get the truth out there, since 99% of the British media are not interested in neutral coverage. They only care about their own agenda.

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