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'[T]he weight of legal advice here is that a fresh mandate may well be required,' UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's letter to Tony Blair before the Iraq war, leaked and published in the Telegraph, September 18, 2004

Secret government documents leaked to the Daily Telegraph reveal that Tony Blair was warned a year before invading Iraq that a stable post-war government would be impossible without keeping large numbers of troops there for "many years".

Foreign office officials reportedly told the UK Prime Minister that there was a risk of the Iraqi system "reverting to type" after a war, with a future government acquiring the very weapons of mass destruction that an attack would be designed to remove.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reportedly wrote to Blair in March 2002 warning that

"... no one has satisfactorily answered how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be any better. Iraq has no history of democracy so no one has this habit or experience."

Sir David Manning, Mr Blair's foreign policy adviser, reportedly returned from talks in Washington in mid-March 2002 warning that Mr Bush "still has to find answers to the big questions", which included "what happens on the morning after?".

In a letter to the Prime Minister marked "Secret - strictly personal", he said: "I think there is a real risk that the administration underestimates the difficulties.

"They may agree that failure isn't an option, but this does not mean they will necessarily avoid it."

A Cabinet Office document reveals:

"Even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years. Military operations need clear and compelling military objectives. For Iraq, 'regime change' does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge match between Bush and Saddam."

The Cabinet Office also indicated that there would be major problems finding a legal justification to use military force: "Subject to law officers' advice, none currently exists".

Peter Ricketts, Straw's policy director, offered the Foreign Secretary some advice in a confidential memo dated Friday, March 22. "By sharing Bush's broad objective, the Prime Minister can help shape how it is defined, and the approach to achieving it," he said.

"In the process, he can bring home to Bush some of the realities which will be less evident from Washington. He can help Bush make good decisions by telling him things his own machine probably isn't."

"The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes, but our tolerance of them post-11 September. I am relieved that you decided to postpone publication of the unclassified document.

"My meeting yesterday showed that there is more work to do to ensure the figures are accurate, and consistent with those of the US...

"US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qa'eda is so far frankly unconvincing.

"To get public and Parliamentary support for military options we have to be convincing that the threat is so serious/imminent that it is worth sending our troops to die for."

Straw warned Blair of two "potential elephant traps". The first was the point that regime change per se was no justification for military action.

The second, the question of whether or not it would require a new mandate. "The US are likely to oppose any idea of a fresh mandate," Mr Straw said. "On the other side, the weight of legal advice here is that a fresh mandate may well be required."

"What will this action achieve? There seems to be a larger hole in this than anything. Most of the assessments from the US have assumed regime change as a means of eliminating Iraq's WMD threat.

"But none has satisfactorily answered how that regime change is to be secured, and how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be any better. Iraq has no history of democracy so no-one has this habit."

Sources: Michael Smith, Secret papers show Blair was warned of Iraq chaos and Michael Smith, 'Failure is not an option, but it doesn't mean they will avoid it', both published in the Telegraph, September 18, 2004, http://www.telegraph.co.uk.

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