US discussed overthrowing Saddam well before Iraq invasionBy Belinda Tasker
Wed Nov 25 02:47:16 EST 2009
Tue Nov 24 15:47:16 UTC 2009
LONDON, Nov 24 AAP - 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 while talks were under way in the US in 2001 about regime change, the UK preferred to toughen up 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.
Sir William Patey, the then head of the Foreign Office's Middle East department, said 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," he 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."
Sir 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 Saddam 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," he 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.