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Sign the Pledge of Resistance against an attack on Iraq

15 January 2003

War Is Not Inevitable, Says Straw (And Blair!)
WAR PLAN IRAQ Update Number 6


'Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, suggested in London that the chance of a strike against Iraq had fallen to 60-40 against. He would not explain his calculation, but said: "That is a reasonably accurate description, but the situation changes from day to day." ' (Independent, 7 Jan. 2003, p. 2) British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon rebuked his Cabinet colleague the following day, 'I don't believe it helps to make this kind of comment at this stage.' (Mirror, 8 Jan., p. 7) This lead to a media furore over suspected splits within the Cabinet over British policy towards Iraq.

There is indeed a split within the Cabinet (as discussed below), but 'Speculation that [Mr Straw's] statement was a monumental career-ending slip proved wrong—the briefing had been authorised by Number 10. Downing Street, acutely aware that the formal announcement of military deployments would increase internal concern that war with Iraq is inevitable, had constructed a three-pronged strategy to calm domestic fears.' (Sunday Telegraph, 12 Jan., p. 18)

The three prongs were Mr Straw's (initially off-the-record) remarks on 4 Jan., followed by a speech by Tony Blair rebuking the US on 7 Jan. (others will listen to the US, but the US must 'listen back'—FT, 8 Jan., p. 1), followed by the Blair-organised 'peace conference' on Middle East the following week.


The three-pronged strategy had not been communicated to Mr Hoon, and once he'd been informed, the Defence Secretary 'was on the telephone to Mr Straw to apologise before you can say, "Jack might succeed Tony, you never know".' (Sunday Telegraph, 12 Jan., p. 21) 'Yet there remains irritation within the Ministry of Defence at Mr Straw's "deeply ill-advised" briefing of the press. One senior figure described it as "clearly rubbish". "How anyone with a passing acquaintance to current thinking in Washington could think those are the odds is a mystery," he said this weekend.' (Sunday Telegraph, 12 Jan., p. 19) From the hawks' point of view, the question is: 'Why release the pressure on Saddam Hussein just as the deployment of forces is supposed to make clear the allies' readiness to use force?' (Diplomatic Editor Anton La Guardia, Telegraph, 7 Jan., p. 11)


Why the complicated strategy? Because Downing Street is afraid—afraid of the British people and their growing opposition to another war on Iraq. Telegraph correspondent Matthew d'Ancona: 'As it has been explained to me, the purpose of this statement of odds is to convince people that nothing is decided over Iraq, and nothing is inevitable.' (Sunday Telegraph, 12 Jan., p. 21)


The problems reach into the Cabinet itself. 'Whitehall is awash with speculation about ministerial resignations, at junior rather than cabinet level, if war starts without UN cover.' (Guardian, 9 Jan., p. 1) 'At the moment I do not think there is enough justification for military action, and all ministers feel the same way,' said one senior Government source. (Telegraph, 8 Jan., p. 4)

Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley is mordant: 'First the good news for Tony Blair: his cabinet is not split about Iraq. All this loose talk of divisions is so much journalistic hot air. Second, the not-so-good news for our prime minister: the cabinet is not split only because it is united in deep angst and worry about what he is up to.' (Guardian, 10 Jan., p. 21) (Note: Ms Ashley says, 'Ministers will attend a "political" Cabinet in two weeks' time, just days before the January 27 deadline.')


The Sunday Telegraph reports that Tony Blair has been advised to undertake a nationwide tour explaining the need for military action to counter the growing threat of mass defections from Labour Party activists. 'The stark message was delivered to the Prime Minister last week by three of his most intimate allies in the Cabinet: Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, Hilary Armstrong, the Chief Whip, and Helen Liddell, the Scottish Secretary.' Blair responded that he is 'too busy'. (Sunday Telegraph, 12 Jan., p. 1) The effort will be led by Geoff Hoon instead.

Three recent surveys of Constituency Labour Party chairpersons found huge opposition to the idea of war without a further UN resolution: 89 per cent opposition (74 Constituency Labour Parties, Sunday Telegraph, 12 Jan., p. 1); 78 per cent opposition (63 CLPs in Labour's most vulnerable constituencies, Times, 15 Jan., p. 12); and 'Nearly all Labour Party constituency chairs and agents asked—almost half the total of those held by government ministers' (33 CLPs—all of them ministers' constituencies, Independent on Sunday, 12 Jan., p. 6).

The surveys showed a real risk of mass resignations in the event of British participation in a unilateral attack on Iraq. The Sunday Telegraph observed, 'Large-scale resignations would put further pressure on the party, which is facing the most serious financial crisis in its 102-year history after a recent drop in donations, union funding and membership subscriptions.' (Sunday Telegraph, 12 Jan., p. 1)

If there was a second UN resolution authorising the use of force, however, the Sunday Telegraph found 49 per cent of CLP chairs would support war with a second UN resolution, 28 per cent would remain opposed to invasion, 22 per cent were undecided. The Independent on Sunday survey of ministers' constituency parties found 29 of the 33 surveyed would support war in the event of UN authorisation, though 'many were extremely uncomfortable with the prospect'.


So a new UN Resolution authorising military action is politically crucial for the Government. 'British diplomats say they can win UN support for war only if the inspectors can corner Saddam, either by finding banned weapons and components or by forcing him to deny access to sites or to officials. "Nobody familiar with the inspections process expects them to come up with the goods in a matter of weeks," a senior British official said.' (Daily Telegraph, 9 Jan., p. 1)

'British officials hope that London's reservations and Mr Blair's growing problems in the Labour Party will help to tip the balance in the Bush administration in favour of delay. But they accept that Britain will go along with an American-led war in almost all circumstances, including a conflict in the spring if Washington is determined to launch an early campaign.'

They hope however to put off the evil hour, one senior British official saying, "There is an assumption that there will be a campaign before the summer because of the heat. The autumn would be just as sensible a time and in the meanwhile Saddam would be thoroughly constrained by the inspectors." (Daily Telegraph 9 Jan., p. 1)

This is one reason behind the slow and partial deployment of British armed forces. At the time of writing, 'no order has yet been given to send out the estimated 150 Challenger tanks that would form the heart of the British participation in a large-scale land invasion'. 'There's genuinely been no decision as yet on sending the offensive stuff,' a 'government insider' said. (FT, 11 Jan., p. 2)

Earlier, the Telegraph reported that Mr Blair had been reluctant to order the deployment of forces to the Gulf because 'it is politically difficult'. The reasons given included the "overstretch" in the Army caused by the firemen's strike, the Treasury's reluctance to release the money for a major deployment and the strong opposition in the Labour Party. (Telegraph, 11 Dec. 2002)

This way of phrasing the matter obscures the important role of the anti-war movement outside the Labour Party. Without the mass mobilisation of the British anti-war movement outside the party system, there would be much less dissent inside the Labour Party and in the British Establishment (now quite significant).

Despite the 9 Jan. Telegraph report that Britain had asked for a delay, according to another report, 'the Prime Minister has not asked for a postponement of military action until the autumn. The prospect of British troops landing in southern Iraq in the next few months is still very real.' (Independent on Sunday, 12 Jan., p. 18)

It may well be that the UK has settled for now with moving the decisive moment back from 27 Jan., when UN weapons inspectors give their first major report to the UN Security Council, to 1 Mar., when they make their second report: 'Government officials are now looking towards the Blix report on 1 March as the possible trigger for military action, believing that the UN weapons inspection team will become increasingly frustrated at Saddam's lack of co-operation.' (Observer, 12 Jan., p. 1) The US has signalled 27 Jan. is no longer 'D-Day'.


What if there is no second UN Resolution even in March? The US hawks, represented by Richard Perle, chair of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board, say, 'A consensus would be a useful thing and I think we'd be willing to wait a little longer to get it but not a long time.' (Telegraph, 10 Jan., p. 16) Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy asked Mr Blair in the House of Commons, 'If the UN weapons inspectorate do not come forward with concrete evidence of weapons of mass destruction, but the US, nonetheless, decide to go ahead with military conflict with Iraq, will Britain be involved?' Mr Blair avoided the question: 'I am not going to speculate on the circumstances that might arise because both ourselves and the United States have made it very clear that we seek to resolve this through the United Nations.' (Times, 9 Jan., p. 14) He leaves his options open.


'One Iraqi specialist encapsulates the dilemma: "It's hard to imagine the circumstances that will trigger war, but it's as hard to imagine the circumstances to stop it." Jack Straw put the odds on war at 60:40 against. In Washington, it's still the other way round.'(Independent on Sunday, 12 Jan., p. 18)

Mr Blair's strategy of trying to stamp his leadership on the Labour Party while also demonstrating his servility to Washington may be about to self-destruct. The initial signs of his political peril and indecision were shown in the Straw-Hoon spat. Mr Straw may have overstepped his instructions, but his underlying message was the one that he was given by Downing Street, and that is subscribed to by all ministers: 'war is not inevitable'. The anti-war movement forced Mr Blair and Mr Bush down the UN route, and the UN route now eats away at the US timetable for war. War in spring 2003 is 'politically difficult'—because of the grassroots mobilisation. Now we must make war 'politically impossible.'


War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Why We Shouldnt Launch Another War Against Iraq
by Milan Rai

'An excellent weapon for all those opposed to Bush's war
'. Tariq Ali
'Excellent'. Alice Mahon MP
'Required reading for anyone concerned about the risk of war'. Professor Paul Rogers, Bradford School of Peace Studies
'Timely and important'. Hilary Wainwright

£10 plus £1.80 p&p.
Please make cheques to ARROW Publications, and send with your address to 29 Gensing Rd, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex TN38 0HE.

For more analysis on the UK Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, view the Counter-Dossier on the Labour Against the War website.

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