September Dossier

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Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, also known as the September Dossier, was a document published by the British government on 24 September 2002 on the same day of a recall of Parliament to discuss the contents of the document. [1] The paper was part of an ongoing investigation by the government into weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, which ultimately led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It contained a number of allegations according to which Iraq also possessed WMD, including chemical weapons and biological weapons. The dossier even alleged that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons programme. Without exception, all of the allegations included within the September Dossier have been since proven to be false, as shown by the Iraq Survey Group.

A recall of Parliament is a parliamentary procedure involving an extraordinary sitting of a parliament, occurring outside the time when that parliament would usually meet, such as over a weekend, or when the parliament would normally be in recess. A parliament is generally recalled as a result of events of major national importance, thus allowing members to hold an emergency debate on issues relating to those events.

Iraq Republic in Western Asia

Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq, is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest and Syria to the west. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups including Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians and Kawliya. Around 95% of the country's 37 million citizens are Muslims, with Christianity, Yarsan, Yezidism and Mandeanism also present. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

2003 invasion of Iraq military invasion led by the United States

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was the first stage of the Iraq War. The invasion phase began on 19 March 2003 and lasted just over one month, including 21 days of major combat operations, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq. This early stage of the war formally ended on 1 May 2003 when U.S. President George W. Bush declared the "End of Major Combat Operations", after which the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was established as the first of several successive transitional governments leading up to the first Iraqi parliamentary election in January 2005. U.S. military forces later remained in Iraq until the withdrawal in 2011.


The much-anticipated document was based on reports made by the Joint Intelligence Committee, part of the British Intelligence 'machinery'. Most of the evidence was uncredited, ostensibly to protect sources. On publication, serious press comment was generally critical of the dossier for tameness and for the seeming lack of any genuinely new evidence. Those politically opposed to military action against Iraq generally agreed that the dossier was unremarkable, with Menzies Campbell observing in the House of Commons that:

Joint Intelligence Committee (United Kingdom) British interagency intelligence organisation

The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) is an interagency deliberative body responsible for intelligence assessment, coordination and oversight of the Secret Intelligence Service, Security Service, GCHQ and Defence Intelligence. The JIC is supported by the Joint Intelligence Organisation under the Cabinet Office.

Menzies Campbell British Liberal Democrat politician and advocate

Walter Menzies Campbell, Baron Campbell of Pittenweem,, often known as Ming Campbell, is a British Liberal Democrat politician, advocate and former athlete. He was the Member of Parliament (MP) for North East Fife from 1987 to 2015 and was the Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2 March 2006 until 15 October 2007.

House of Commons of the United Kingdom Lower house in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the upper house, the House of Lords, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Officially, the full name of the house is the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. Owing to shortage of space, its office accommodation extends into Portcullis House.

We can also agree that [Saddam Hussein] most certainly has chemical and biological weapons and is working towards a nuclear capability. The dossier contains confirmation of information that we either knew or most certainly should have been willing to assume. [2]

However, two sections later became the centre of fierce debate: the allegation that Iraq had sought "significant quantities of uranium from Africa", and the claim in the foreword to the document written by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that "The document discloses that his military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them." [3]

Uranium Chemical element with atomic number 92

Uranium is a chemical element with symbol U and atomic number 92. It is a silvery-grey metal in the actinide series of the periodic table. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons. Uranium is weakly radioactive because all isotopes of uranium are unstable, with half-lives varying between 159,200 years and 4.5 billion years. The most common isotopes in natural uranium are uranium-238 and uranium-235. Uranium has the highest atomic weight of the primordially occurring elements. Its density is about 70% higher than that of lead, and slightly lower than that of gold or tungsten. It occurs naturally in low concentrations of a few parts per million in soil, rock and water, and is commercially extracted from uranium-bearing minerals such as uraninite.

Tony Blair Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007. He was Leader of the Opposition from 1994 to 1997. As of 2017, Blair is the last UK Labour Party leader to have won a general election.

Britain's biggest selling popular daily newspaper, The Sun , subsequently carried the headline "Brits 45mins from doom", [4] while the Daily Star reported "Mad Saddam ready to attack: 45 minutes from a chemical war", [5] helping to create the impression among the British public that Iraq was a threat to Britain.

<i>The Sun</i> (United Kingdom) Tabloid newspaper from the United Kingdom and Ireland

The Sun is a tabloid newspaper published in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. As a broadsheet, it was founded in 1964 as a successor to the Daily Herald; it became a tabloid in 1969 after it was purchased by its current owners. It is published by the News Group Newspapers division of News UK, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Since The Sun on Sunday was launched in February 2012, the paper has been a seven-day operation. The Sun previously had the largest circulation of any daily newspaper in the United Kingdom, but it was overtaken by rival Metro in March 2018.

<i>Daily Star</i> (United Kingdom) British daily tabloid newspaper published by Reach plc.

The Daily Star is a daily tabloid newspaper published from Monday to Saturday in the United Kingdom since 2 November 1978. On 15 September 2002 a sister Sunday edition, was launched with a separate staff. On 31 October 2009, the Daily Star published its 10,000th issue.

Major General Michael Laurie, one of those involved in producing the dossier wrote to the Chilcot Inquiry in 2011 saying "the purpose of the dossier was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence, and that to make the best out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence the wording was developed with care." [6] On 26 June 2011, The Observer reported on a memo from John Scarlett to Blair's foreign affairs adviser, released under the Freedom of Information Act, which referred to "the benefit of obscuring the fact that in terms of WMD Iraq is not that exceptional". The memo has been described as one of the most significant documents on the September dossier yet published as it is considered a proposal to mislead the public. [7]

Iraq Inquiry British public inquiry into the Iraq war

The Iraq Inquiry was a British public inquiry into the nation's role in the Iraq War. The inquiry was announced in 2009 by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and published in 2016 with a public statement by Chilcot.

<i>The Observer</i> weekly British newspaper, published on Sundays

The Observer is a British newspaper published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum as its sister papers The Guardian and The Guardian Weekly, whose parent company Guardian Media Group Limited acquired it in 1993, it takes a social liberal or social democratic line on most issues. First published in 1791, it is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.

John Scarlett former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service

Sir John McLeod Scarlett is a retired British senior intelligence officer. He was Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) from 2004 to 2009. Prior to this appointment, he had chaired the Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).


Uranium from Niger

The claim that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa was repeated in US President George W. Bush's January 2003 State of the Union Address. The controversial 16 words used by President Bush on 28 January 2003 were:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. [8]

In March 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), when it finally obtained the documents referred to by United States Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council alleging transactions between Niger and Iraq, concluded that they were obvious fakes. [9]

Subsequently, CIA director George Tenet stated that the remarks should not have been included in the US President's speech. This followed a remark by US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, saying that the presence of the line in the speech showed that it had been authorised by the CIA.

In July, Tony Blair testified to the House of Commons Liaison Committee that the evidence the government had regarding Iraq's dealings with Niger came from a separate source to the fraudulent documents. Ever since Powell's presentation, critics argued that had the US and UK intelligence services fully cooperated with United Nations weapons inspectors, it could have been found out whether the claims were truthful.

The same month, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (which was investigating the veracity of the claims in the dossier) that the statement in the dossier rested on separate evidence which was still under review, and that this specific intelligence had not been shared with the CIA. In written evidence to the same committee, however, Straw further disclosed that the intelligence information upon which the British government had relied was shared separately with the IAEA by a foreign government shortly before their report of 7 March 2003. [10] This was further confirmed in a Parliamentary answer to Lynne Jones MP. [11] Lynne Jones subsequently contacted the IAEA to question whether a third party had discussed or shared separate intelligence with them and, if so, what assessment they made of it. IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky responded to Jones on 25 May 2004:

I can confirm to you that we have received information from a number of member states regarding the allegation that Iraq sought to acquire uranium from Niger. However, we have learned nothing which would cause us to change the conclusion we reported to the United Nations Security Council on March 7, 2003 with regards to the documents assessed to be forgeries and have not received any information that would appear to be based on anything other than those documents. [12]

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee judged that the British government had been wrong to state in an unqualified manner something that had not been established beyond doubt:

We conclude that it is very odd indeed that the Government asserts that it was not relying on the evidence which has since been shown to have been forged, but that eight months later it is still reviewing the other evidence. The assertion "…that Iraq sought the supply of significant amounts of uranium from Africa …" should have been qualified to reflect the uncertainty. [13]

The privately Blair-appointed Butler Review, whose own report was issued after the aforementioned public investigation, concluded that the report Saddam's government was seeking uranium in Africa appeared credible:

a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.

b. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger's exports, the intelligence was credible.

c. The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium, and the British Government did not claim this.

d. The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it. [14] [15]

The Butler Review also made a specific conclusion on President Bush's 16 words: "By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that: 'The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.' was well-founded."

The 45 minute claim

The 45 minute claim lies at the centre of a row between Downing Street and the BBC. On 29 May 2003, BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan filed a report for BBC Radio 4's Today programme in which he stated that an unnamed source – a senior British official – had told him that the September Dossier had been "sexed up", and that the intelligence agencies were concerned about some "dubious" information contained within it – specifically the claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to use them.

On 1 June, Gilligan expanded upon that claim in The Mail on Sunday newspaper, stating that the government's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, had been responsible for the insertion of the 45-minute claim, against the wishes of the intelligence agencies. Gilligan subsequently gave evidence before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, as did Campbell, who denied ordering the inclusion of the claim, and demanded an apology from the BBC. He subsequently backed this demand in writing.

The BBC refused to apologise, and stood by Gilligan's story. Campbell responded angrily, with an appearance on Channel 4 News . [16]

On 7 July, the Select Committee published a report which cleared Campbell, albeit on the casting vote of the chairman. In the report, the committee stated that the 45-minute claim had been given "undue prominence".

On 15 September, MI6 head Richard Dearlove told the Hutton Inquiry that the claim related to battlefield WMD rather than weapons of mass destruction of a larger range than just battlefield. [17] On the same day, Tony Cragg, the retired deputy chief of defence intelligence, admitted there were memos from two members of DIS objecting that parts of the dossier, including the 45-minute claim, was "far too strong" or "over-egged". [18]

On 28 January 2004, the Hutton Inquiry released its report, which among other things concluded that:

Information surfacing in late 2009 initially appeared to suggest that the source of the 45 minute claim was in fact a taxi driver "on the Iraqi-Jordanian border, who had remembered an overheard conversation in the back of his cab a full two years earlier". [19] [20] Whether or not the taxi driver was the source of the 45-minute claim or instead "something about missiles" remains an open question. [21]

It is also claimed by Adam Holloway MP that "When the information was acquired by MI6, a footnote was written on the page of an intelligence report sent to No 10 stating that the claim was 'verifiably inaccurate'." [22]

Role in the death of David Kelly

The following day, 30 May 2003, the Ministry of Defence claimed that one of its officials (later named as Dr. David Kelly) had come forward, admitting to having discussed the matter of Iraq's weapons with Gilligan on 22 May. The BBC responded by saying that Kelly differed from Gilligan's key source in "important ways". Kelly was subsequently called before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee whose conclusion was that Kelly was being used as a scapegoat and that he had not been Gilligan's key mole.

On 17 July, Gilligan gave evidence to a private session of the Select Committee, and was subsequently criticised for not naming his source, and for changing his story. The BBC continued to stand by him.

On the same day, Kelly left his home for an area of woodland and was later found dead with his left wrist slit, apparently having committed suicide.

On 20 July, Richard Sambrook, director of news at the BBC, revealed that Kelly was indeed the key source for Gilligan's report, and that the BBC had not said so before so as to protect Kelly. The BBC stressed that Gilligan's reporting accurately reflected Kelly's comments, implying that Kelly had not been entirely truthful with the Select Committee. An inquest into the cause of the death was begun, but was suspended by Lord Falconer. [23] The BBC committed to assisting fully with the then forthcoming Hutton Inquiry into Kelly's death.

On 28 January 2004, the Hutton Inquiry published its report. With regard to the death of Dr. Kelly:

Dissatisfied with the results of the Hutton Inquiry, in 2010 experts called for the suspended inquest to be reopened. [23]

See also

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