Britain, US split over Saddam
25/11/09; (2 Items)
Britain and the US were at odds over whether to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein two years before the pair teamed up to invade Iraq in 2003, an inquiry has heard. Former senior British military and government officials told the first public hearings of Britain’s latest Iraq war inquiry that, although talks were under way in the US in 2001 about regime change, Britain preferred to toughen UN sanctions against Iraq in an attempt to control Saddam. At the time, President George Bush had just come to power and both Britain and US were reviewing their Iraq policies because they were struggling to contain Saddam and his ambitions to develop weapons of mass destruction.
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William Patey, the then head of the Foreign Office’s Middle East department, said that, although Britain was aware that parts of the Bush administration were talking about regime change in Iraq, Britain had no policy to get rid of Saddam.
“In February 2001 we were aware of these drum beats from Washington and internally we discussed it,” Sir William told the inquiry. Our policy was to stay away from that end of the spectrum. I think later on … (the Foreign Office tried to) signal that we didn’t think Saddam was a good thing and it would be great if he went but we didn’t have an explicit policy for trying to get rid of him.”
Peter Ricketts, who chaired Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee in 2001, told the inquiry how the then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had written a document warning “nothing will change” until Sad- dam was gone.
But he said most of the talk in Washington about regime change was focused on arming Iraqi opposition parties to overthrow Saddam. “I was certainly never aware of anyone in the British government at that point promoting or supporting active measures to achieve regime change,” Sir Peter said.
Simon Webb, a former Ministry of Defence policy director, said he was at a meeting in Washington in March 2001 when regime change was discussed but no firm proposition was ever put to the British by the Americans. He wrote about the discussion in notes from the meeting but said: “The dog didn’t bark.”
The latest inquiry into the Iraq war is designed to examine why Britain joined the US-led invasion in 2003 and look at whether it was even legal.
In his opening statement to the first day of public hearings in London, inquiry head John Chilcot insisted he would not hold back on criticising the government or anyone else. He said his investigation into why Britain joined the 2003 Iraq invasion was not a trial, but would be “thorough, rigorous, fair and frank”.
Blair branded a liar as poll rivals blaze away at Iraq invasion
The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, faces demands to hold an inquiry into Britain’s case for war in Iraq as his rivals in the general election next week home in on his support for the US-led invasion. The Liberal Democrat Party, which opposed the war, placed advertisements in newspapers showing a smiling Mr Blair beside the US President, George Bush, under the headline “Never again”. “Britain’s international reputation has been damaged by the way Tony Blair took us to war,” the party’s leader, Charles Kennedy, said yesterday. “Tony Blair says history will be his judge. He is wrong. The British people will be his judge.” Mr Kennedy was due to call later in the day for a public inquiry into Britain’s decision to go to war. Iraq rose to the top of the election agenda at the weekend, with the Conservatives accusing Mr Blair of lying over the 2003 war.