Figures released by the Ministry of Defence have shown the reasons given by Britain and America for stepping up bombing raids in Iraq in the run-up to war were a sham, writes Michael Smith.
Geoff Hoon, who was then defence secretary, and Donald Rumsfeld, his American counterpart, both claimed that the rise in air attacks was in response to Iraqi attempts to shoot down allied aircraft
However, the minutes of a meeting of Tony Blair’s war cabinet on July 23, 2003, leaked to The Sunday Times, record Hoon saying “the US had begun spikes of activity to put pressure on the regime”.
Ministers have since insisted that the stepped-up attacks, which began in May 2002, were as a result of increased Iraqi activity and were not an attempt to provoke a response that would give the allies an excuse for war.
The figures do not support those claims. In the first seven months of 2001 the allies recorded a total of 370 “provocations” by the Iraqis against allied aircraft. But in the seven months between October 2001 and May 2002 there were just 32.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, who obtained the MoD data in a Commons written answer, said it reinforced the need for an inquiry into ministers’ conduct in the run-up to war.