RIP the Iraq dossier distinction
All right, I’ll admit defeat. In debating the Iraq war I can no longer hold the line. I shall have to give up trying to maintain the distinction between the main dossier of September 2002 and the “dodgy” dossier of February 2003.
Some of us who were paying attention at the time and who think that facts and details matter have sought to keep the two separate. At the time, the Government dossier, Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, was regarded as a rather dull document that added little to what was already known about Saddam Hussein’s unconventional weapons capability.
The February briefing document, Iraq – Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation, was issued to British journalists accompanying Tony Blair on his visit to the US. It was an attempt to explain why it was so difficult to obtain reliable information about Saddam’s WMD, but was mocked, and named the “dodgy dossier” by the British press, when it was discovered that much of it had been copied and pasted without attribution from an article by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a California graduate student.
I always thought it was rather insulting to al-Marashi, now assistant professor at California State University, San Marcos, for his article to be dismissed as a “PhD thesis”. It was a solid piece of work. The problem was the failure to attribute, not the content.
Still, it has stood the test of time better than the September dossier. Every word of that, apart from Blair’s foreword, was the work of the intelligence agencies, and they got it wrong. The conclusion of the Butler inquiry could have been summarised in the word “dodgy”.
For a long time, calling the September document the dodgy dossier was a reliable indicator that someone did not know what they were talking about. Simon Heffer still doesn’t, and gets the date wrong as well, but I shall henceforth give up trying to influence common usage in making that historical distinction.
I shall restrict myself to quoting Margaret Thatcher. Baroness Trumpington has just told BBC2 Daily Politics that the former Prime Minister once told her: “The Daily Mail is never right.”
Update: I have now checked the newspaper database. The phrase “dodgy dossier” was used by the Daily Mirror the day before the September dossier was published, and once by The Sunday Telegraph on 20 October about the September dossier. Otherwise the phrase was used in relation to Iraq in 2002 only by The Sun on 20 December – a reference to “Saddam’s dodgy dossier” – his attempt to meet UN demands. An Observer leading article was the first to use the phrase about the February briefing document, on 9 February 2003 (it was given to journalists on 3 February). The phrase achieved wide currency after it was used by Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative MP who supported military action, in an opposition debate in the Commons on 12 February.Tagged in: iraq, iraq war, pedantry
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