MI6 plotted with No10 to oust Saddam in bid to win "prize" of secure oil supplies
MI6 plotted the toppling of Saddam Hussein nearly 18 months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, secret papers revealed.
Spy chiefs discussed with Downing Street a plan that was layered ‘like an onion’, with ministers openly supporting ‘regime change’ while behind the scenes working closely with those carrying out a coup.
The intelligence service also made clear in newly declassified papers that the ‘prize’ for removing the Iraqi dictator was ‘new security to oil supplies’.
The documents will add weight to critics’ claims that this was the real reason the U.S. and Britain went to war, and not because they feared Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The Iraq Inquiry has heard that Tony Blair had signalled that he would be willing to back ‘regime change’ in Iraq when he met President George W Bush in Texas in 2002.
But the latest papers highlight how the prospect of removing Saddam had been discussed by the then Prime Minister’s inner circle months earlier.
Sir Richard Dearlove, the then head of the spy service, sent three documents to Mr Blair’s top foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning on the issue in December 2001.
Two discussed how Britain could ‘head off’ the U.S. from pursuing regime change in Baghdad. But the other set out ‘a route map for regime change very openly’.
Written by a Middle East expert at MI6 known only as ‘SIS4’, he told Sir David: ‘At our meeting on 30 November we discussed how we could combine an objective of regime change in Baghdad with the need to protect important regional interests which would be at grave risk.’
The MI6 agent raised the possibility of the U.S. and Britain covertly supporting a coup against Saddam by disgruntled Sunnis.
He wrote: ‘The key idea is that it is possible to speak openly about support for regime change in Iraq, without compromising the actual project to support a coup.
‘The overall plan would need to be like an onion – each layer concealing the one below.
‘The whole is a policy statement: We want regime change in Baghdad and we are ready to provide air support to coup makers. The inmost part is knowledge of the coup makers with whom we are in touch and their operational plan.’
‘SIS4’ suggested a 12- to 18-month timetable for the plan to work ‘to meet U.S. impatience’ for the removal of Saddam.
And he foresaw the problem of ministers taking ‘illegal’ military action. He wrote: ‘Government law officers to provide assurances of legality (there has been a serious problem here).’
In the third document to Sir David, ‘SIS4’ warned that an invasion of Iraq would not be as easy as the initial coalition thrust into Afghanistan.
‘The defences of the Iraqi regime are formidable,’ he wrote. ‘The Tikritis are not a bunch of Taliban.’
He also said an invasion could boost support for terrorism, increase distrust of the U.S. and its allies in the Islamic world and raise oil prices.
Giving evidence in January this year, Sir David insisted he ‘could not remember’ why he had demanded the assessment but suggested it was because links between Iraq and the terror atrocities were being discussed in the U.S.