Iraq War (Immediate Aftermath)
█ K. LEE LERNER
On May 1, 2003, United States President George W. Bush announced an end to major military combat operations related to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Although evidence of Saddam Hussein's reign of terror was rapidly forthcoming—including the discovery of numerous mass gravesites of those brutally executed for resisting Hussein's rule—the anticipated discovery of large caches of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proved elusive. By the end of May 2003, both British and American intelligence agencies began to downplay the possibility of finding large stores of such weapons. Although both U.S. and British officials continued to assert prior claims about the extent of Iraq's arsenal, questions remained as to whether the weapons had been removed, destroyed, or whether intelligence reports regarding the weapons had been mishandled, exaggerated, or falsified.
Although some seized on the growing controversy regarding the lack of WMD finds as a partisan political issue, all Western intelligence agencies, including those of war dissenter nations France and Germany, agreed before the war that Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Attention in America and Europe focused on to what degree claims regarding Iraqi WMD programs might have been exaggerated, or as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported, "sexed up" by both the Bush and Blair administrations to gain support for the war.
At the core of the controversy lay the handling of critical reports compiled by British intelligence regarding Hussein's possession and potential use of weapons of mass destruction. One report, publicly released by the British in 2002, asserted that Hussein's "military planning allows for some weapons of mass destruction to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them." This statement was used by Coalition governments to stress the urgency of war. Another report, also compiled by British intelligence and released just weeks before the start of military operations, allegedly had new intelligence information, but was subsequently exposed to contain material plagiarized from a previously published academic source.
A BBC report in late May 2003, alleged that a senior British official involved in the preparation of the Fall, 2002 report (containing claims regarding Iraq's ability to rapidly assemble and use biological and chemical weapons) claimed that the report was rewritten on the instructions of officials in the administration of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to make it "sexier" (i.e., to stress the urgency of war). The BBC described their source as one of a number of senior British officials in charge of drawing up the report.
Officials in the Blair government, including John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, countered that the report was entirely the work product of the intelligence community and that no pressure had been exerted to change its contents. Blair administration officials demanded a retraction and apology from the BBC. The BBC refused and stood by its story. Other British government officials initially characterized the BBC sources as "rogue elements within the intelligence services" who were against the government.
The British House of Commons foreign affairs committee began a series of hearings into the controversy and took statements from government officials and journalists regarding the BBC report. As of July 2003, the committee's initial conclusion was there was insufficient evidence of "improper influence," but that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that parts of the reports regarding Iraqi weapons readiness were given unwarranted emphasis. The committee specifically concluded that Alastair Campbell, the Blair administration's director of communications—specifically identified in BBC reports as one administration official who tried to influence report content—was not responsible for attempting to influence the contents of the report.
Another inquiry was led by the British Intelligence and Security Committee. During their hearings, testimony was provided by David Kelly, a government weapons expert. Although the BBC initially protected the identity of its source, following Kelly's death the BBC acknowledged that Kelly was the "principal source" for its claim that the report had been "sexed-up."
After the BBC aired its story in late May 2003, other news organizations sought the source of the BBC information and Kelly's name became publicly identified as the potential source of the BBC story. In July 2003, Kelly initially confirmed meeting with a BBC reporter, but denied he was the main source for the BBC report. Intense scrutiny along with and criticism of Kelly and his potential role in the story circulated in both press and government circles. Kelly blamed U.K. Ministry of Defense officials and others in the Blair government for leaking his name to the press. Kelly claimed that he was put under "intolerable" pressure by the disclosure of his association with the potential intelligence scandal.
Kelly went missing on July 17, 2003, and the next day his body was discovered near his Oxfordshire home with a knife and a packet of painkillers close to his body. Police confirmed that subsequent forensic examination concluded that Kelly committed suicide and bled to death from cuts to his wrist. Prime Minister Blair confirmed that there would be a judicial inquiry dealing with the events surrounding Kelly's death.
In July, 2003, U.S. Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet accepted the blame for allowing subsequently discredited information from British Intelligence—that Hussein's government "recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa"—to remain in the text of President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union speech. Tenet acknowledged that the CIA had doubted the validity of the reports and that the evidence did not rise to the "level of certainty" normally required for insertion into presidential speeches.
At the end of July 2003, several inquires were underway into the formulation and use by Coalition governments of intelligence related to Iraqi possession and development of weapons of mass destruction.
The hunt for Hussein's regime. Against steady sniper and terrorist attacks, Coalition forces continued the hunt for former officials of Saddam Hussein's regime.
In July 2003, U.S. Army soldiers and Task Force 20 personnel (a special unit tasked with capturing or killing former Iraqi leaders) surrounded and killed Qusay and Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein's sons and top officials of the former Iraqi regime. Following their discovery in Mosul, the former Iraqi leaders refused to surrender and an intense firefight ended in their deaths. U.S. officials debated and then released photos of the bodies, in part, to alleviate Iraqi fears that the two might still be alive and attempt a return to power. U.S. officials also hoped that the confirmation of the deaths of Qusay and Uday would encourage Iraqis to come forward with intelligence related to capturing Saddam.
As of July 30, 2003, Coalition forces and Task Force 20 had killed or captured almost 40 former Iraqi leaders depicted in a famous deck of playing cards sometimes dubbed the "deck of death," circulated to Coalition forces to assist them in spotting wanted former Iraqi leaders.
At the end of July, 2003, U.S. Central Command confirmed the deaths of 90 American service personnel killed in Iraq since President Bush's May 1 declaration of an end to major combat operations. At least 49 of those soldiers were killed in combat.
█ FURTHER READING:
Schmitt, E. and B. Weinraub. "Pentagon Asserts the Main Fighting Is Finished in Iraq." New York Times. April 15, 2003.
Sanger D., and J. Risen. "C.I.A. Chief Takes Blame in Assertion on Iraqi uranium." New York Times. July 12, 2003.
BBC News: "CIA Takes Blame for Iraq Claims." July 12, 2003. < http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3060615.stm > (July 30, 2003).
BBC News. Timeline: "US losses in Iraq." Updated July 30, 2003. < http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3019552.stm > (July 30, 2003).
United Kingdom Parliament. Oral evidence Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, July 15,2003. < http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmfaff/uc1025 i/uc102502.htm >. July 30, 2003.