The Downing Street Memos

Jefferson Morley notes that the “memos” expressing the state of the Blair Government’s pre-war planning for the eventual U.S.-U.K. military seizure of Iraq have “made headlines from Australia to China to Pakistan” since the London Times published the first of them on Sunday, May 1, just four days shy of the British national elections that returned the Labour Party to power. Too bad they haven’t made as many headlines in the States. Even worse, when they have—the June 8 Columbus Dispatch and Houston Chronicle, the June 12 Washington Post, and the June 15 Los Angeles Times come to mind—readers have been fed a steady diet of official denials and grossly misleading context.

Instead of trying to filter out the noise that accompanies officially sanctioned acts of violence on behalf of American Power—For what else is warmaking, after all?—the way that a deafening roar does the launching of a rocket ship, I’ve decided to post here not only the links to the London Times‘s copies of the two principal British memos, but also to re-post copies of the documents themselves, as they appear in the Times‘s electronic archives.

Notice that I am posting them here in the same order the Times itself first brought them to light (July 23, 2002 ahead of July 21, 2002), which is to reverse the order in which they were drafted.

Note also that today’s Baltimore Sun published a copy of the July 23, 2002 memo, drafted by the Blair Government’s then-foreign policy aide, Matthew Rycroft. (These days, the gentleman serves as the British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina—another foreign-occupied territory established on the model the Americans prefer, with UN- and other forms of multilateral- and NGO-mediation standing in between the brute force of arms on the one side, and real independence on the other.)

To the best of my knowledge, the Sun‘s publication of the memo constitutes the very first occasion on which a mass-circulation newspaper in the States has decided to publish this very important document.

Of course, its ultimate historical importance will rise or fall from here, depending on what we’re able to do about it. Beginning Thursday with the informal hearing by House Democrats and chaired by Representative John Conyers into this latest catastrophe the Americans have brought upon the world.

Iraq: Options Paper, Overseas and Defense Secretariat, Cabinet Office March 8, 2002 (Self-explanatory)

Iraq: Legal Background, [No Author, No Date (March, 2002?)] (Self-Explanatory)

Your Trip to the U.S., David Manning, March 14, 2002 (Document in preparation for Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Aril 8, 2002 trip to the United States to visit with President George Bush et al. at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas)

Iraq and Afghanistan: Conversation with Wolfowitz, Christopher Meyer, March 18, 2002 (Document recounting a March 17, 2002 meeting between the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and the U.K. Ambassador to the United States, Christopher Meyer)

Iraq: Advice for the Prime Minister, P.F. Ricketts, March 22, 2002 (Self-explanatory)

Prime Minister, Crawford/Iraq, Jack Straw, March 25, 2002 (Document by the U.K. Foreign Secretary raises issues about the feasibility of overthrowing the Iraqi Government, as well as the legality of such an undertaking)

Iraq: Conditions for Military Action, A Note by Officials of the Cabinet Office, July 21, 2002 (as published in the SundayTimes as “Cabinet Office Paper,” June 12, 2005)

Iraq: Prime Minister’s Meeting, July 23, Matthew Rycroft, July 23, 2002 (as published in the Sunday Times as “The Secret Downing Street Memo,” May 1, 2005)

Possible Legal Bases for the Use of Force, Lord Peter Goldsmith, March 7, 2003 (Document represents the definitive position of the British Attorney General about the legal bases for the war option)

Lord Goldsmith’s published advice on the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq,” March 17, 2003 (as posted to The Guardian‘s website)

Open Letter To: The Honorable George W. Bush, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Jr., et al., May 5, 2005

Gold Star and Military Families Call for Truth Regarding Downing St. Memo, Members to Visit Congress,” News Release, June 13, 2005

After Downing Street.org (Homepage)
The Downing Street Memo.com (Homepage)

Draft Impeachment Resolution Against President George W. Bush,” Francis A. Boyle, CounterPunch, January 17, 2003
It’s About the Rule of Law: Impeaching George W. Bush,” Francis A. Boyle, CounterPunch, July 25, 2003
Destroying World Order: U.S. Imperialism in the Middle East Before and After September 11th, Francis A. Boyle (Clarity Press, Inc., 2004)

A Case to Answer: A first report on the potential impeachment of the Prime Minister for High Crimes and Misdemeanours in relation to the invasion of Iraq, Glen Rangwala, Dan Plesch, et al. (Adam Price, MP, British House of Commons, August, 2004)
ImpeachBlair.org (self-explanatory)

Impeachment Time: ‘Facts Were Fixed’,” Greg Palast, May 5, 2005

Three Headless Corpses, September 19, 2004
Impeach ‘Em All, November 13, 2004
The Blair Era, April 30, 2005

Postscript (June 21): For two of the worst commentaries yet to have appeared on the so-called Downing Street Memos:

No Smoking Gun,” Michael Kinsley, Washington Post, June 12, 2005
Let’s Go to the Memo: What’s really in the Downing Street memos?” Fred Kaplan, Slate, June 15, 2005

Perhaps you will recall a similar hatchet job that Slate‘s Fred Kaplan performed last fall on the study comparing Iraqi mortality rates, pre- an post-invasion, released by The Lancet on October 29, 2004 (“Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey,” Les Roberts et al)?

In that exercise (“100,00 Dead—Or 8,000,” Oct. 29), Kaplan dismissed The Lancet study’s “estimate [that] there were 98,000 extra deaths (95% CI 8000-194 000) during the post-war period,” pretending that the study’s authors had claimed only that they were “95 percent confident that the war-caused deaths totaled some number between 8,000 and 194,000,” and that the “number cited in plain language—98,000” represented nothing more significant within the totality of the data than the “halfway point in this absurdly vast range,” making their estimate no better than a “dart board.”

In other words, Kaplan pretended that The Lancet study itself had asserted an equally high degree of probability for the estimate of 8,000 as it had for the estimate of 194,000 or for the estimate of 98,000, ultimately making the study’s findings worthless—a sheer misrepresentation of the study itself claimed.

As Kaplan himself went on to conclude about the likely number of Iraqi deaths caused by the American war and occupation:

let’s call it 15,000 or—allowing for deaths that the press didn’t report—20,000 or 25,000, maybe 30,000 Iraqi civilians killed in a pre-emptive war waged (according to the latest rationale) on their behalf. That’s a number more solidly rooted in reality than the Hopkins figure—and, given that fact, no less shocking.

In shrugging-off the importance of the “Downing Street Memos” today, Fred Kaplan and Michael Kinsley are employing the exact same kind of strategy as Kaplan employed in shrugging-off The Lancet study last fall.

Gee. If only we all could be as sophisticated as Fred Kaplan and Michael Kinsley.

Postscript (June 27): A commentary in Saturday’s Guardian (London) by the British historian Eric Hobsbawm has received quite a lot of circulation the past 48 hours:

America’s Neo-Conservative World Supremacists Will Fail,” June 25

For those of you so inclined, you might check out the real thing from 14 years ago (minus all of the “Neo-Con” nonsense that cripples contemporary thinking, though plays well on the Nation-Left and, disconcertingly, judging by Hobsbawm’s commentary, in the U.K. as well):

Deterring Democracy, Noam Chomsky, 1991. Especially the Introduction, Ch. One, “Cold War: Fact and Fancy,” and Ch. Twelve, “Force and Opinion


The secret Downing Street memo,” Matthew Rycroft, July 23, 2003 (as posted by the Sunday Times, May 1, 2005)

From: Matthew Rycroft.
Date: 23 July 2002.
S 195 /02.

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell.


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment.

Saddam’s regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad US options were: (a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were: (i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun “spikes of activity” to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week.

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.

Conclusions: (a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.

(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)

MATTHEW RYCROFT (Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)


Cabinet Office paper: Conditions for military action,” July 21, 2002 (as posted by the Sunday Times, June 12, 2005). As the Times explained by way of introducing this document: “The paper, produced by the Cabinet Office on July 21, 2002, is incomplete because the last page is missing. The following is a transcript rather than the original document in order to protect the source.”



Ministers are invited to:
(1) Note the latest position on US military planning and timescales for possible action.
(2) Agree that the objective of any military action should be a stable and law-abiding Iraq, within present borders, co-operating with the international community, no longer posing a threat to its neighbours or international security, and abiding by its international obligations on WMD.
(3) Agree to engage the US on the need to set military plans within a realistic political strategy, which includes identifying the succession to Saddam Hussein and creating the conditions necessary to justify government military action, which might include an ultimatum for the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq. This should include a call from the Prime Minister to President Bush ahead of the briefing of US military plans to the President on 4 August.
(4) Note the potentially long lead times involved in equipping UK Armed Forces to undertake operations in the Iraqi theatre and agree that the MOD should bring forward proposals for the procurement of Urgent Operational Requirements under cover of the lessons learned from Afghanistan and the outcome of SR2002.
(5) Agree to the establishment of an ad hoc group of officials under Cabinet Office Chairmanship to consider the development of an information campaign to be agreed with the US.


1. The US Government’s military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace. But, as yet, it lacks a political framework. In particular, little thought has been given to creating the political conditions for military action, or the aftermath and how to shape it.
2. When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq’s WMD through the UN weapons inspectors had been exhausted.
3. We need now to reinforce this message and to encourage the US Government to place its military planning within a political framework, partly to forestall the risk that military action is precipitated in an unplanned way by, for example, an incident in the No Fly Zones. This is particularly important for the UK because it is necessary to create the conditions in which we could legally support military action. Otherwise we face the real danger that the US will commit themselves to a course of action which we would find very difficult to support.
4. In order to fulfil the conditions set out by the Prime Minister for UK support for military action against Iraq, certain preparations need to be made, and other considerations taken into account. This note sets them out in a form which can be adapted for use with the US Government. Depending on US intentions, a decision in principle may be needed soon on whether and in what form the UK takes part in military action.

The Goal

5. Our objective should be a stable and law-abiding Iraq, within present borders, co-operating with the international community, no longer posing a threat to its neighbours or to international security, and abiding by its international obligations on WMD. It seems unlikely that this could be achieved while the current Iraqi regime remains in power. US military planning unambiguously takes as its objective the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime, followed by elimination if Iraqi WMD. It is however, by no means certain, in the view of UK officials, that one would necessarily follow from the other. Even if regime change is a necessary condition for controlling Iraqi WMD, it is certainly not a sufficient one.

US Military Planning

6. Although no political decisions have been taken, US military planners have drafted options for the US Government to undertake an invasion of Iraq. In a ‘Running Start’, military action could begin as early as November of this year, with no overt military build-up. Air strikes and support for opposition groups in Iraq would lead initially to small-scale land operations, with further land forces deploying sequentially, ultimately overwhelming Iraqi forces and leading to the collapse of the Iraqi regime. A ‘Generated Start’ would involve a longer build-up before any military action were taken, as early as January 2003. US military plans include no specifics on the strategic context either before or after the campaign. Currently the preference appears to be for the ‘Running Start’. CDS will be ready to brief Ministers in more detail.
7. US plans assume, as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia. This means that legal base issues would arise virtually whatever option Ministers choose with regard to UK participation.

The Viability of the Plans

8. The Chiefs of Staff have discussed the viability of US military plans. Their initial view is that there are a number of questions which would have to be answered before they could assess whether the plans are sound. Notably these include the realism of the ‘Running Start’, the extent to which the plans are proof against Iraqi counter-attack using chemical or biological weapons and the robustness of US assumptions about the bases and about Iraqi (un)willingness to fight.

UK Military Contribution

9. The UK’s ability to contribute forces depends on the details of the US military planning and the time available to prepare and deploy them. The MOD is examining how the UK might contribute to US-led action. The options range from deployment of a Division (ie Gulf War sized contribution plus naval and air forces) to making available bases. It is already clear that the UK could not generate a Division in time for an operation in January 2003, unless publicly visible decisions were taken very soon. Maritime and air forces could be deployed in time, provided adequate basing arrangements could be made. The lead times involved in preparing for UK military involvement include the procurement of Urgent Operational Requirements, for which there is no financial provision.

The Conditions Necessary for Military Action

10. Aside from the existence of a viable military plan we consider the following conditions necessary for military action and UK participation: justification/legal base; an international coalition; a quiescent Israel/Palestine; a positive risk/benefit assessment; and the preparation of domestic opinion.


11. US views of international law vary from that of the UK and the international community. Regime change per se is not a proper basis for military action under international law. But regime change could result from action that is otherwise lawful. We would regard the use of force against Iraq, or any other state, as lawful if exercised in the right of individual or collective self-defence, if carried out to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, or authorised by the UN Security Council. A detailed consideration of the legal issues, prepared earlier this year, is at Annex A. The legal position would depend on the precise circumstances at the time. Legal bases for an invasion of Iraq are in principle conceivable in both the first two instances but would be difficult to establish because of, for example, the tests of immediacy and proportionality. Further legal advice would be needed on this point.
12. This leaves the route under the UNSC resolutions on weapons inspectors. Kofi Annan has held three rounds of meetings with Iraq in an attempt to persuade them to admit the UN weapons inspectors. These have made no substantive progress; the Iraqis are deliberately obfuscating. Annan has downgraded the dialogue but more pointless talks are possible. We need to persuade the UN and the international community that this situation cannot be allowed to continue ad infinitum. We need to set a deadline, leading to an ultimatum. It would be preferable to obtain backing of a UNSCR for any ultimatum and early work would be necessary to explore with Kofi Annan and the Russians, in particular, the scope for achieving this.
13. In practice, facing pressure of military action, Saddam is likely to admit weapons inspectors as a means of forestalling it. But once admitted, he would not allow them to operate freely. UNMOVIC (the successor to UNSCOM) will take at least six months after entering Iraq to establish the monitoring and verification system under Resolution 1284 necessary to assess whether Iraq is meeting its obligations. Hence, even if UN inspectors gained access today, by January 2003 they would at best only just be completing setting up. It is possible that they will encounter Iraqi obstruction during this period, but this more likely when they are fully operational.
14. It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community. However, failing that (or an Iraqi attack) we would be most unlikely to achieve a legal base for military action by January 2003.

An International Coalition

15. An international coalition is necessary to provide a military platform and desirable for political purposes.
16. US military planning assumes that the US would be allowed to use bases in Kuwait (air and ground forces), Jordan, in the Gulf (air and naval forces) and UK territory (Diego Garcia and our bases in Cyprus). The plans assume that Saudi Arabia would withhold co-operation except granting military over-flights. On the assumption that military action would involve operations in the Kurdish area in the North of Iraq, the use of bases in Turkey would also be necessary.
17. In the absence of UN authorisation, there will be problems in securing the support of NATO and EU partners. Australia would be likely to participate on the same basis as the UK. France might be prepared to take part if she saw military action as inevitable. Russia and China, seeking to improve their US relations, might set aside their misgivings if sufficient attention were paid to their legal and economic concerns. Probably the best we could expect from the region would be neutrality. The US is likely to restrain Israel from taking part in military action. In practice, much of the international community would find it difficult to stand in the way of the determined course of the US hegemon. However, the greater the international support, the greater the prospects of success.

A Quiescent Israel-Palestine

18. The Israeli re-occupation of the West Bank has dampened Palestinian violence for the time being but is unsustainable in the long-term and stoking more trouble for the future. The Bush speech was at best a half step forward. We are using the Palestinian reform agenda to make progress, including a resumption of political negotiations. The Americans are talking of a ministerial conference in November or later. Real progress towards a viable Palestinian state is the best way to undercut Palestinian extremists and reduce Arab antipathy to military action against Saddam Hussein. However, another upsurge of Palestinian/Israeli violence is highly likely. The co-incidence of such an upsurge with the preparations for military action against Iraq cannot be ruled out. Indeed Saddam would use continuing violence in the Occupied Territories to bolster popular Arab support for his regime.


19. Even with a legal base and a viable military plan, we would still need to ensure that the benefits of action outweigh the risks. In particular, we need to be sure that the outcome of the military action would match our objective as set out in paragraph 5 above. A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the US military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden. Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired endstate would be created, in particular what form of Government might replace Saddam Hussein’s regime and the timescale within which it would be possible to identify a successor. We must also consider in greater detail the impact of military action on other UK interests in the region.

Domestic Opinion

20. Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein. There would also need to be a substantial effort to secure the support of Parliament. An information campaign will be needed which has to be closely related to an overseas information campaign designed to influence Saddam Hussein, the Islamic World and the wider international community. This will need to give full coverage to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, including his WMD, and the legal justification for action.


21. Although the US military could act against Iraq as soon as November, we judge that a military campaign is unlikely to start until January 2003, if only because of the time it will take to reach consensus in Washington. That said, we judge that for climactic reasons, military action would need to start by January 2003, unless action were deferred until the following autumn.
22. As this paper makes clear, even this timescale would present problems. This means that:
(a) We need to influence US consideration of the military plans before President Bush is briefed on 4 August, through contacts betweens the Prime Minister and the President and at other levels;


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