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. [1]

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. [2]

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. [3]

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. [4]

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. [5]

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. [6]

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. [7]

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.


(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. [8]

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


(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)

[emphasis added]

Annotations to the original “Downing Street Memo”
aka the Minutes for July 23, 2002 Prime Minister’s Meeting.

1. The cc list shows this meeting included all the key Cabinet members involved in forming the UK’s Iraq policy.  This copy of the memo was sent to Foreign Policy Advisor David manning (akin to the US National Security Advisor) from Matthew Rycroft, a foreign policy aide.  For a full list of meeting attendees and their US counterparts, see the Related page on the site.

2. This section states the obvious, that Saddam’s regime was a brutal dictatorship.  Scarlett notes too that the only way to topple Saddam would be through “massive military action.”

3. This is the most damning section of the memo, from a US perspective.  ‘C’ is Sir Richard Dearlove, head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service known as MI6 who has just returned from meetings in Washington.  He informs Blair that Bush has decided on military action to remove Saddam, and that the US administration has also determined a way to justify that action—the ‘conjunction’ of terrorism and WMD.  That is, Bush will sell the idea of invasion by joining fears about Saddam’s weapons capabilities with fears about terrorism.  This was an especially potent combination only ten months after 9/11, and sure to resonate with an American public still grieving for its loss.

However, Dearlove also indicates that the intelligence to back up the terrorism-WMD link was being arranged (“fixed around”) to support the already-determined policy of invasion.  He goes on to note that the NSC—Condoleeza Rice’s department—had “no patience” with going to the UN, and finally that there was “little discussion” in Washington about what would happen after Baghdad fell.

4. This section deals with purely military matters.  ‘CDS’ is Sir Michael Boyce, the UK’s top uniformed military officer, akin to the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Boyce describes the two invasion options the US and UK militaries are considering, and notes the possible levels of UK involvement.  Important to note here is that, at a minimum, UK bases in Cypress and Diego Garcia would be used, thus making the UK a party to the war.  This makes finding a legal justification for the invasion imperative for Blair because—unlike the US—the UK is a member of the International Criminal Court and under international law war for the purpose of regime change is illegal.

The last paragraph is also important because it indicates that Boyce believed the Bush administration was going to set the timetable for the war around the 2002 Congressional elections.  The timing is highly suspect because it would mean that the buildup to invasion would begin just as members of Congress were entering the final 30 days of their re-election campaigns and the media would be preoccupied with election coverage.

5. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw agrees with the intelligence chief’s earlier assessment that “Bush had made up his mind to take military action.”  He expresses doubts about such action, however, noting that the case for war was thin.  He suggests going to the UN in order to allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq, but Straw does not present this as a diplomatic solution.  Rather, it is an “ultimatum to Saddam” that we know from the other leaked UK documents was expected to provide a pretext for war when Saddam refused to comply.  Straw refers here also to how such an ultimatum—and Saddam’s certain violation of it—would “help with the legal justification for the use of force.”  Of course, this did not turn out the way it was envisioned.  Saddam complied with the ultimatum of UN resolution 1441, and after months of searching, the inspectors found no WMDs.  They did find conventional missiles that exceeded preset limitations on range, and destroyed them.

6. Attorney-General Goldsmith at this point weighs in with the legal issues.  He makes it very clear that regime change is not a legal basis for war, nor would self-defense or humanitarian intervention be applicable to Iraq.  The only way for Britain to satisfy its legal requirements for invasion would be to go back to the UN, since the three-year old resolution 1205 was not likely to be adequate.  Resolution 1441 was the result of this process.

7. Now we hear from the Prime Minster himself, who acknowledges the political and legal advantage of having Saddam violate a new UN resolution on inspections.  He also offers a way to connect the illegal motive of regime change with the legal one of self-defense, by way of WMD—“it was the regime that was producing the WMD.”

 The next few paragraphs describe concerns about not knowing the details of the US battle plan, concerns about Saddam using WMD at the outset of the invasion, and most important for American readers, concerns about differences between US and UK political strategy.  Jack Straw says the UK should pursue a UN resolution “despite US resistance,” which is in line with Britain’s need for one. But Blair will have to convince Bush to go along with a UN initiative.  He succeeded in this, with the support of Colin Powell.

8. The conclusions are basically the “action items” that come out of any business meeting.  The key item to note here is the last, (f), which says almost as a warning, “we must not ignore the legal issues,” and sends Attorney-General Goldsmith away to devise a legal justification.  His eventual arrival at one, days before the invasion, has been the subject of much controversy in the UK.  It was also the catalyst for the resignation of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, Deputy Legal Adviser to the Foreign Office, who left her post because she could not support what she maintained was an illegal war.

Major Players:
the officials present at the secret meeting

Below is a breakdown of the various individuals mentioned in the memo – all of whom were present during the meeting with the Prime Minister and subsequently received copies of these minutes.

• Foreign Policy Advisor – David Manning
• Matthew Rycroft – aide to Manning, wrote up the minutes of the meeting.
• Defence Secretary – Geoff Hoon
• Foreign Secretary – Jack Straw
• Attorney-General – Lord Goldsmith
• Cabinet Secretary – Sir Richard Wilson
• Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee – John Scarlett
• Director of GCHQ – Francis Richards, head of the UK’s “signals
   intelligence establishment”, an intelligence agency which reports
   to the Foreign Secretary
• Director of SIS (aka MI6) – Sir Richard Dearlove, identified as “C” in the
   meeting minutes, heads the UK’s foreign intelligence service
• Chief of the Defence Staff – Admiral Sir Michael Boyce
• Chief of Staff – Jonathan Powell
• Head of Strategy – Alastair Campbell
• Director of Political & Govt Relations – Sally Morgan

Go here for table of US equivalents for reference, photos and links

Though it is sometimes difficult to equate a given official to his or her US counterpart, it’s clear that this was a meeting at the highest level within the UK government.

Attendees included three members of the Cabinet (Prime Minister Blair, the Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary), the nation’s most senior bureaucrat (the Cabinet Secretary), three out of the four top people from the UK intelligence community (the JIC Chair and the heads of MI6 and GCHQ), the head of the armed forces and four of the innermost circle of the PM’s political advisors.

Note: The relatively junior level of Rycroft bears no relevance to the contents of the minutes, which summarize what the principals said at the meeting to each other.

Go to top of page link

Quotes regarding the document’s credibility:

“The newly disclosed memo, which was first reported by the Sunday Times of London, hasn’t been disavowed by the British government. The British Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

A former senior U.S. official called it “an absolutely accurate description of what transpired” during the senior British intelligence officer’s visit to Washington. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

A White House official said the administration wouldn’t comment on leaked British documents…”

Memo: Bush manipulated Iraq intel,

“British officials did not dispute the document’s authenticity…”

Bush asked to explain UK war memo,
CNN, May 12, 2005

“Since Smith’s report was published May 1, Blair’s Downing Street office has not disputed the document’s authenticity. Asked about them Wednesday, a Blair spokesman said the report added nothing significant…”

Indignation Grows in U.S. Over British Prewar Documents,
LA Times, May 12, 2005