How Arabic text of WMD dossier was massaged by Downing St

When Tony Blair published his notorious 2002 “dossier” which falsely claimed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, Downing Street also produced an Arabic version – which contained significant deletions and changes in text that substantially altered its meaning.

Translation carried out for The Independent on Sunday reveals for the first time that several references to UN sanctions were cut from the Arabic text. On one page, the words “biological agents” were changed to read “nuclear agents”. Arab journalists who reported on the dossier culled their information from the Arabic version – unaware that it was not the same as the English one.

While there is evidence of sloppiness in the translation – a 2001 Joint Intelligence Committee assessment of Iraqi nuclear ambitions is rendered as 2002 – many of the changes were clearly deliberate, apparently in an attempt to make the dossier more acceptable as well as more convincing to an Arab audience. At the time, the US and Britain were trying to convince Arab Gulf states that Saddam Hussein still represented a major threat to them – in the hope of seeking their support for the 2003 invasion – while the Arab world was enraged at the disastrous effects UN sanctions had on child mortality in Iraq.

In the “Executive Summary” at the start of the English edition, readers in Arabic were reminded that Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons against Iran and his own people before the 1991 Gulf War. But the fact that he had admitted this after the Gulf War was deleted, along with the fact that he agreed to give up his WMD. The apparent intention was to convince Arabs that Saddam remained an imminent threat.

In some cases, too, the Arabic text was hardened to remove any doubts that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The alteration of “biological agents” – biologia in Arabic – to nuclear (la-nawawiya in Arabic) is obviously deliberate, and may reflect the belief that an Arab audience would be more fearful of nuclear weapons than biological agents. References to “damaged” Iraqi factories have been changed to “destroyed” (tadmir in Arabic), giving the impression that US and British air strikes in 1991 were more accurate than in fact they were.

On Iraq’s nuclear programme, the English version of the dossier says that two research reactors were “bombed” in 1991. In the Arabic, the two reactors are described as “destroyed”.

Correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk is resident in the Middle East and comments on events unfolding there