I've always thought it a bit mad to believe that Bush and Blair conspired to "lie" about the existence of Iraqi WMD, rather than genuinely, mistakenly believing Saddam had them. Apart from anything else, why would you make up a huge lie in full knowledge that you would be found out? And, if you were going to engage in said deceit, wouldn't you try harder to ensure you weren't found out?
During the research for my book, Born Liars (which, perhaps disappointingly, is not a fearless exposé of Bush and Blair but an investigation of the role of deceit in our lives) I conducted a fascinating interview with Kevin Woods, a retired US army officer, former member of the Joint Forces Command and veteran of the 1991 Gulf war. After the 2003 the US army asked Woods to conduct a "lessons learned" exercise, focusing on what Saddam's government had been thinking and doing in the run-up to war.
Woods and his team interviewed hundreds of former senior members of the Iraqi army and government, and were handed tapes of Iraqi government meetings, including meetings chaired by Saddam. It took them about five years to piece the story together. There's too much of interest to cover here - you'll have to buy the book - so I'll focus on what Iraqi officials said to him about WMD.
Woods was surprised to find that many of the Iraqi officials had drawn the same conclusions about Iraq's WMD as the West had done. Saddam constantly signalled that he was playing the West along when he denied he had WMD.
Woods asked the regime's head of research into WMD whether he had ever thought it possible there was a secret WMD programme that even he didn't know about. The official nodded. Yes, he had thought it a possibility. After all, he explained, the government was extremely compartmentalised and secretive, and everyone lied to everyone else. Only one man knew everything.
"Also", he continued, "Your president said it was so!". Iraqi officials had been impressed by Bush's certainty, and thought of the CIA as an intelligence service of legendary prowess which wouldn't make a mistake like this. (This raises the Heller-esque possibility that some Iraqis were telling Western intelligence that the WMDs existed because they believed Western intelligence when it said they existed).
Saddam had constructed a hall of mirrors into which everyone, including the West, had allowed themselves to be drawn into. When the U.S military turned up in Iraq and discovered no WMD, they were amazed. So were Iraqi officials - not so much because it turned out that Saddam had been bluffing, but because they couldn't believe that Bush would be so stupid as to neglect to take the precaution of planting some WMDs on Iraqi soil, so that the Americans had at least something to "discover". To their minds, it was incompetence of the highest order.