My PhD was lifted to justify the Iraq war. Was I right? And who apologised?

(As published in the Times of London)

Ibrahim al-Marashi

Watching Alastair Campbell testify before the Chilcot inquiry yesterday reminded me of my unexpected role in the attempt to manipulate British public opinion before the Iraq war. In September 2002 I published an article for The Middle East Review of International Affairs, based on my PhD.

Five months later whole sections of it were copied from the internet by an official in Tony Blair's Government into a dossier that the British and US governments used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Since then I have been repeatedly asked two questions: was the plagiarised information right or wrong? And did Tony Blair apologise? The answer to the first question is that my article was probably the most comprehensive overview of Iraq's security services available, and it was accurate. But that is not what people are asking.

They think that I advocated war against Iraq or discussed weapons of mass destruction. Some blame me for the claim that Iraq could deploy chemical weapons in 45 minutes. A Turkish journalist even accused me of being responsible for the death of Dr David Kelly, the scientist who questioned the 45-minute claim.

What actually happened was this: the British Government took my material, then added pages that argued for military action against Iraq and changed key words to suggest that Iraq had supported al-Qaeda. This formed part of what became known as the "Dodgy Dossier", published in February 2003.

It followed a report released in September 2002, detailing Iraq's WMD programme and including the 45-minute figure four times. The BBC's assertion that Mr Campbell had inserted the 45-minute figure to "sex up" the document led to it being known as the "Sexed-up Dossier".

Sir John Scarlett, the intelligence chief, told the Chilcot inquiry that some of the facts he presented to the Government were "lost in translation". I would say that what got lost in translation is that governments have been spinning wars since the US Government set up the Creel Commission in the First World War.

I did receive an apology from Mr Campbell a few days after he testified to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry in June 2003. I sat directly behind him, although I don't think he knew who I was. He apologised for using my article without attribution, and said that he hoped it had not endangered my family.

I cringe now at how I reacted. I was suddenly famous but I failed to used that fame to highlight the British Government's spin. I should have said that if the British Government went to my article to pad out its dossier, then British and US justifications for the war were dubious. I should have raised greater awareness that Iraq might not have had WMDs before March 2003, when the war erupted. The "Dodgy Sex Dossier", as it might as well have been called, has haunted me since. And it seems to remain an unsettled issue for the British public.


Ibrahim al-Marashi is a Professor of International Relations at IE School of Arts and Humanities, IE University, Madrid


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