The reporter who broke the Downing Street Memo (DSM) in the London Times, Michael Smith, has filed this important piece in Raw Story (bold text is my emphasis):
Britain and America’s reasons for stepping up bombing of Iraq in the ten months leading up to the war in Iraq was a sham, official figures released by the British Ministry of Defense show.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Geoff Hoon, his UK counterpart, said the stepped-up attacks by U.S. and Royal Air Force aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone were a response to increased attacks by Iraqi air defences.
The minutes of a meeting of Tony Blair’s Iraq war cabinet on July 23, 2003, leaked to the London Sunday Times, record Hoon as saying “the US had begun spikes of activity to put pressure on the regime.”
UK ministers have since insisted that the stepped up attacks, which began in May 2002, were a direct result of Iraqi attempts to shoot down allied aircraft and were not, as Hoon suggested, an attempt to provoke a response that would give the allies an excuse for war.
But figures released last month by the British Ministry of Defense show that in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, with American officials predicting moves to oust Saddam Hussein, Iraq dramatically scaled back its attacks on allied aircraft.
During the first seven months of 2001 the allies recorded 370 “provocations” by the Iraqi military against allied aircraft. But in the seven months between October 2001 and May 2002 when the allies stepped up their attacks, there were just 32. The complete figures are available here, on the parliament’s website.
The number of recorded threats dropped markedly in October 2001, the first full month after the Sept. 11 attacks, from 24 in September to just eight in October.
With U.S. officials openly predicting that an attack on Afghanistan would be followed by an invasion of Iraq, the number of recorded threats kept dropping.
By February 2002, there were just two, in March none and in April again two. Such was the reduction in the number of Iraqi threats that in the six months leading up to the “spikes of activity” British aircraft did not at any point need to respond in self-defence.