Another day, another lie revealed about Iraq.

The British Telegraph, quoting secret reports tendered to the forthcoming Chilcot Inquiry, now says that Tony Blair misled parliament and the British people throughout 2002 by insisting that Britain sought Iraqi disarmament rather than regime change, when in reality the invasion — and the removal of Saddam — had been planned since February of that year.

In some respects, this is hardly a revelation.

We’ve already seen the contents of the so-called “Downing Street memo”, which recorded the then head of Britain’s MI6 explaining in July 2002, after a meeting with his US counterparts, that George Bush had at that point already decided to topple Saddam “through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD” and that, as a result, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.

Now, the Telegraph’s report demonstrates that the British were doing some fixing of their own.

Furthermore, the new material throws new light on that Parade of Fail that was the media’s coverage of the countdown to war.  That is, if, by early 2002, the invasion was already set, then all the rigmarole around the admission or otherwise of UN inspectors — the subject of so many earnest columns — was entirely empty since, rather than desperately negotiating an alternative to war, the US and the UK were working assiduously to ensure the conflict proceeded according to schedule. As the New Statesman pointed out back in 2005, “documentary evidence and ministerial answers in [the UK] parliament reveal the existence of a clandestine bombing campaign designed largely to provoke Iraq into taking action that could be used to justify the start of the war”.

From May 2002, US planes had begun a bombing campaign in the southern no-fly zone of Iraq, which Geoff Hoon,  then defence secretary, explained to his colleagues as “spikes of activity to put pressure on the regime”.

Thus, on  September 5, 2002, a hundred planes attacked an Iraqi airfield on the southern edge on the no-fly zone. As the New Statesman points out, the facility wasn’t destroyed to prevent attacks on the Shia (the alleged purpose of the zone); it was attacked to allow special forces units to enter Iraq from Jordan during the forthcoming invasion.

But compare how events were reported in the Australian press at the time. Here, to take an example more or less at random, is the leader from the Brisbane Courier Mail of  December 13, 2002. Discussing the 12,000-page Iraqi response to UN demands for a catalogue of its weapons, the editorialist wrote:

Until the mass of detail in Iraq’s declaration has been crosschecked against what Western intelligence agencies have been able to ferret out, Washington must proceed on the premise that Iraq can be disarmed peacefully. That is not to suggest it is entitled to a presumption of innocence. It has long since forfeited the right to be treated as a credible, let alone respectable member of the world community. But for the US to launch an attack on Iraq under the aegis of the war on terrorism, it requires two things — compelling evidence of continuing duplicity, plus the legitimacy of UN approval.

All very judicious. Yet, by December 2002, the US and Britain had not only decided on war but were actively engaged in it, with an astonishing 53.2 tonnes of bombs dropped on Iraqi targets in that month alone.

Now the Iraq invasion did not involve much consensual sex, whether in Parliament House or elsewhere. It did, however, devastate any entire nation, kill hundreds of thousands of people and fundamentally alter the shape of the Middle East, in ways that will impact on us all for generations.  Surely, then, the mounting evidence about how completely and utterly the press got played will spark calls for media reform.

Won’t it?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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