Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Iraq war inquiry: Britain heard US drumbeat for invasion before 9/11.

On it's very first day sitting the Chilcot inquiry has heard that the George Bush regime wanted to topple Saddam Hussein before 9-11 even took place. And it also heard that the Blair government were against such an action because they recognised that regime change would be illegal.

Evidence given at the opening day of the inquiry, chaired by the former top civil servant Sir John Chilcot, painted a picture of a Whitehall slowly realising the significance of George Bush's election in November 2000 on US policy towards Iraq.

Even before the Bush administration came to power an article written by his then national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, warned that "nothing will change" in Iraq until Saddam was gone, Sir Peter Ricketts, a former chairman of the joint intelligence committee (JIC) and now the Foreign Office's top official, told the inquiry.

"We were aware of these drumbeats from Washington and internally we discussed it. Our policy was to stay away from that part of the spectrum," added Sir William Patey, then head of the Middle East department at the Foreign Office.

He revealed that in late 2001 – following the 9/11 attacks on the US – he asked officials at the ministry to draw up an Iraq "options" paper, including regime change. "We dismissed it at the time because it had no basis in law," Patey told the inquiry.

"We quite clearly distanced ourselves in Whitehall from talk about regime change," said Ricketts. Up to March 2002 "there was no increased appetite among UK ministers for military action in Iraq," he added.

Simon Webb, a former policy director at the Ministry of Defence, who also gave evidence today, described the issue of regime change in Iraq during the early days of the Bush administration as "the dog that did not bark. It grizzled, but it did not bark".

Quite how this practice, which by their own admission had "no basis in law", came to be the official policy of the UK government will no doubt be revealed in the weeks to come, but it is interesting to note that the UK position originally recognised the illegality of an invasion of Iraq.

The truth is that the neo-cons were pushing for an invasion of Iraq long before 9-11, but it was that day which seems to have made it much harder for people like Blair to resist their urgings.

But it's interesting to note the fact that British intelligence at no point linked Saddam with al Qaeda in the way which people like Cheney continued to insist they were linked.

Moreover, voices in Washington were starting to link the Iraqi leader to al-Qaida. Ricketts said Britain had no evidence showing Iraq was "linked in any way to 9/11". He added: "We didn't have any such evidence."

Neocons in the Bush administration and the CIA claimed in the run-up to the invasion that Saddam was linked to al-Qaida, a claim dismissed at the time by MI6.

The truth is that the neo-cons saw in 9-11 their chance to carry out a long held ambition - the removal of Saddam Hussein - and they simply started a selling job to gain public approval for their task. I don't think even they ever believed that he was linked to the events of 9-11, but that day simply provided them with their best ever opportunity to remove him and they weren't prepared to allow that chance to slip from their grasp.

It was to facilitate that chance that the orgy of lies took place.
According to previously leaked documents, Ricketts, political director at the Foreign Office at the time, described the US in 2002 as "scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qaida", a link that was "so far frankly unconvincing". He told Jack Straw, then foreign secretary: "We have to be convincing that the threat is so serious/imminent that it is worth sending our troops to die for. Regime change does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge match between Bush and Saddam."
I suspect that this might turn out like the Hutton inquiry, in that the final conclusion will matter less than what comes out in the wash. On day one we have already heard that the British government regarded regime change as illegal and that Bush wanted to invade long before 9-11.

And yet, we all know what happened next. We'll hear over the next few months how Blair moved from that initial position to approving an illegal war.


Well worth reading:

In Iran some Shia theologians argued at the time that the second coming of the Mehdi might well be at hand, because only divine intervention could have persuaded the Americans to behave so stupidly as to get rid of Iran's main enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The coming to power of a Shia-dominated regime in Iraq, the first in the Arab world since the time of Saladin, was bound to enhance Iranian influence over its neighbour.

Members of the Iraqi opposition in the weeks before the invasion were metaphorically touching wood in case the Americans and the British realised what they were getting into. In December 2002 I was at an Iraqi opposition conference in a hotel on Edgware Road in central London when an Iraqi friend spoke to me nervously: "I have only one fear," he said. "It is that the Americans will realise at the last moment that attacking Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein is not in their own best interests."

Click here for full article.

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