"One Final Chance for Iraq," Speech to the House of Commons, 25 February 2003

Author: Tony Blair

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"One Final Chance for Iraq," Speech to the House of Commons, 25 February 2003

Tony Blair

One Final Chance for Iraq

Statement by the Prime Minister the Right Honourable Tony Blair MP on Iraq,
House of Commons,
25 February 2003

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a further statement on Iraq.

Let me again briefly recap the history of the Iraqi crisis. In 1991 at the conclusion of the Gulf War, the true extent of Saddam’s WMD programme became clear. We knew he had used these weapons against his own people, and against a foreign country, Iran, but we had not known that in addition to chemical weapons, he had biological weapons which he had denied completely and was trying to construct a nuclear weapons programme.

So on 3 April 1991, the UN passed the first UN Resolution on Saddam and WMD, giving him 15 days to give an open account of all his weapons and co-operate fully with the UN inspectors in destroying them. 15 days later he submitted a flawed and incomplete declaration denying he had biological weapons and giving little information on chemical weapons. It was only four years later after the defection of Saddam’s son-in-law to Jordan, that the offensive biological weapons and the full extent of the nuclear programme were discovered. In all, 17 UN Resolutions were passed. None was obeyed. At no stage did he co-operate. At no stage did he tell the full truth.

Finally in December 1998 when he had begun to obstruct and harass the UN inspectors, they withdrew. When they left they said there were still large amounts of WMD unaccounted for. Since then the international community has relied on sanctions and the No Fly Zones policed by US and UK pilots to contain Saddam. But the first is not proof against Saddam’s deception and the second is limited in its impact.

In 2001 the sanctions were made more targeted. But around $3 billion a year is illicitly taken by Saddam, much of it for his and his family’s personal use. The intelligence is clear: he continues to believe his WMD programme is essential both for internal repression and for external aggression. It is essential to his regional power. Prior to the inspectors coming back in he was engaged in a systematic exercise in concealment of the weapons.

That is the history. Finally last November UN Resolution 1441 declared Saddam in material breach and gave him a ’final opportunity’ to comply fully immediately and unconditionally with the UN’s instruction to disarm voluntarily. The first step was to give an open, honest declaration of what WMD he had, where it was and how it would be destroyed. On 8 December he submitted the declaration denying he had any WMD, a statement not a single member of the international community seriously believes. There have been two UN inspectors reports. Both have reported some co-operation on process. Both have denied progress on substance.

So: how to proceed? There are two paths before the UN. Yesterday the UK along with the US and Spain introduced a new Resolution declaring that ’Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441’.

But we will not put it to a vote immediately. Instead we will delay it to give Saddam one further final chance to disarm voluntarily. The UN inspectors are continuing their work. They have a further report to make in March. But this time Saddam must understand. Now is the time for him to decide. Passive rather than active co-operation will not do. Co-operation on process not substance will not do. Refusal to declare properly and fully what has happened to the unaccounted for WMD will not do. Resolution 1441 called for full, unconditional and immediate compliance. Not 10 per cent, not 20 per cent, not even 50 per cent, but 100 per cent compliance. Anything less will not do. That is all we ask; that what we said in Resolution 1441 we mean; and that what it demands, Saddam does.

There is no complexity about Resolution 1441. I ask all reasonable people to judge for themselves:

After 12 years is it not reasonable that the UN inspectors have unrestricted access to Iraqi scientists—that means no tape recorders, no minders, no intimidation, interviews outside Iraq as provided for by Resolution 1441? So far this simply isn’t happening.

Is it not reasonable that Saddam provides evidence of destruction of the biological and chemical agents and weapons the UN proved he had in 1999? So far he has provided none.

Is it not reasonable that he provides evidence that he has destroyed 8,500 litres of anthrax that he admitted possessing, and the 2,000 kilos of biological growth material, enough to produce over 26,000 litres of anthrax?

Is it not reasonable that Saddam accounts for up to 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent, including 1½ tonnes of VX nerve agents, 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, and over 30,000 special munitions?

To those who say we are rushing to war, I say this. We are now 12 years after Saddam was first told by the UN to disarm; nearly 6 months after President Bush made his speech to the UN accepting the UN route to disarmament; nearly 4 months on from Resolution 1441; and even now today we are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntary disarmament through the UN.

I detest his regime. But even now he can save it by complying with the UN’s demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.

I do not want war. I do not believe anyone in this House wants war. But disarmament peacefully can only happen with Saddam’s active co-operation.

12 years of bitter experience teaches that. And if he refuses to co-operate—as he is refusing now and we fail to act, what then? Saddam in charge of Iraq, his WMD intact, the will of the international community set at nothing, the UN tricked again, Saddam hugely strengthened and emboldened—does anyone truly believe that will mean peace? And when we turn to deal with other threats, where will our authority be? And when we make a demand next time, what will our credibility be? This is not a road to peace but folly and weakness that will only mean the conflict when it comes is more bloody, less certain and greater in its devastation.

Our path laid out before the UN expresses our preference to resolve this peacefully; but it ensures we remain firm in our determination to resolve it.

I have read the memorandum put forward by France, Germany and Russia in response to our UN Resolution. It is to be welcomed at least in these respects. It accepts that Saddam must disarm fully. And it accepts that he is not yet co-operating fully. Indeed not a single member of the EU who spoke at the Summit in Brussels on 17 February disputed the fact of his non-co-operation.

But the call is for more time, up to the end of July at least. They say the time is necessary ’to search out’ the weapons. At the core of this proposition is the notion that the task of the inspectors is to enter Iraq to find the weapons, to sniff them out as one member of the European Council put it. That is emphatically not the inspectors’ job. They are not a detective agency. And even if they were, Iraq is a country with a land mass roughly the size of France. The idea that the inspectors could conceivably sniff out the weapons and documentation relating to them without the help of the Iraqi authorities is absurd. That is why 1441 calls for Iraq’s active co-operation.

The issue is not time. It is will. If Saddam is willing genuinely to co-operate then the inspectors should have up to July, and beyond July; as much time as they want. If he is not willing to co-operate then equally time will not help. We will be just right back where we were in the 1990s.

And, of course, Saddam will offer concessions. This is a game with which he is immensely familiar. As the threat level rises, so the concessions are eked out. At present he is saying he will not destroy the Al-Samud missiles the inspectors have found were in breach of 1441. But he will, under pressure, claiming that this proves his co-operation. But does anyone think that he would be making any such concessions, that indeed the inspectors would be within a 1,000 miles of Baghdad, were it not for the US and UK troops massed on his doorstep? And what is his hope? To play for time, to drag the process out until the attention of the international community wanes, the troops go, the way is again clear for him.

Give it more time, some urge on us. I say we are giving it more time. But I say this too: it takes no time at all for Saddam to co-operate. It just takes a fundamental change of heart and mind.

Today the path to peace is clear. Saddam can co-operate fully with the inspectors. He can voluntarily disarm. He can even leave the country peacefully. But he cannot avoid disarmament.

One further point. The purpose in our acting is disarmament. But the nature of Saddam’s regime is relevant in two ways. First, WMD in the hands of a regime of this brutality is especially dangerous because Saddam has shown he will use them. Secondly, I know the innocent as well as the guilty die in a war. But do not let us forget the 4 million Iraqi exiles, the thousands of children who die needlessly every year due to Saddam’s impoverishment of his country—a country which in 1978 was wealthier than Portugal or Malaysia but now is in ruins, 60 per cent of its people on food aid. Let us not forget the tens of thousands imprisoned, tortured or executed by his barbarity every year. The innocent die every day in Iraq victims of Saddam, and their plight too should be heard.

And I know the vital importance in all of this of the Middle East peace process. The European Council last week called for the early implementation of the Roadmap. Terror and violence must end. So must settlement activity. We welcomed President Arafat’s statement that he will appoint a Prime Minister, an initiative flowing from last month’s London conference on Palestinian reform. I will continue to strive in every way for an even-handed and just approach to the Middle East peace process.

At stake in Iraq is not just peace or war. It is the authority of the UN. Resolution 1441 is clear. All we are asking is that it now be upheld. If it is not, the consequences will stretch far beyond Iraq. If the UN cannot be the way of resolving this issue, that is a dangerous moment for our world. That is why over the coming weeks we will work every last minute we can to reunite the international community and disarm Iraq through the UN. It is our desire and it is still our hope that this can be done.

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Chicago: Tony Blair, "One Final Chance for Iraq," Speech to the House of Commons, 25 February 2003 in "One Final Chance for Iraq," Speech to the House of Commons, 25 February 2003 Original Sources, accessed November 29, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=13RA7F989ZDRUVN.

MLA: Blair, Tony. "One Final Chance for Iraq," Speech to the House of Commons, 25 February 2003, in "One Final Chance for Iraq," Speech to the House of Commons, 25 February 2003, Original Sources. 29 Nov. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=13RA7F989ZDRUVN.

Harvard: Blair, T, "One Final Chance for Iraq," Speech to the House of Commons, 25 February 2003. cited in 25 February 2003, "One Final Chance for Iraq," Speech to the House of Commons, 25 February 2003. Original Sources, retrieved 29 November 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=13RA7F989ZDRUVN.