On November 24, 2009 England began its third inquiry into the Iraq War, this time headed by John Chilcot. On November 26 Britain’s former ambassador to the United States Christopher Meyer testified. He confirmed what has been reported here before, that the Bush White House had decided upon war before the United Nations weapons inspectors returned to Iraq in November 2002. He told the inquiry, “The U.S. military timetable was already in place before weapons inspectors went in.” Meyer said the original invasion date had been set for January 2003, but was pushed back to March. He believed that the inspectors had no time to complete their work by that date, and instead the U.S. and England turned the process into a means to find evidence of Iraq’s WMD to provide a “smoking gun” to justify the war. Meyer told the inquiry, “It was another way of saying, ‘It’s not that Saddam Hussein has to prove he’s innocent, we’ve now got to bloody well prove he’s guilty.’ And we – Americans and British – have never really recovered from that because of course there was no smoking gun.” England’s former ambassador to the United Nations Sir Jeremy Greenstock agreed that the inspectors never had the time to do their job because the drive for an invasion was so strong in Washington.
Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair had been the original impetus to go to the United Nations and have weapons inspectors return to build support for an invasion. On March 12 and 13, 2002 Blair’s political adviser David Manning met with National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice in Washington where he suggested that inspectors be sent back into Iraq to build a legal base for war, and convince the international community of the U.S. and British’s case against Saddam because it was expected that he would refuse to give them unlimited access to his country. Later, on March 17, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had lunch with Ambassador Meyer, where he suggested that inspections would be a way to trip up Saddam over WMD, and help justify regime change. In April President Bush met with Blair in Texas, where the Prime Minister again emphasized the need to go the U.N. route if the U.S. wanted British support. Bush finally agreed after Secretary of State Colin Powell lobbied him on the same point during dinner on August 5, 2002.
U.N. Resolution 1441 was eventually passed on November 8, 2002 and weapons inspectors entered Iraq shortly afterward. The U.S. and England saw them as a means to provide a justification for overthrowing Saddam however, rather than a way to disarm Iraq. When the inspectors found breaches of 1441 but no “smoking gun” Bush went ahead with the war anyway as planned in March 2003.
For more on the U.N. inspections see:
The U.N. Inspectors Were Right: Iraq Was Not A Threat
Charles Duelfer’s Account Of The End Of The 1990s U.N. Inspections
How The Administration Reversed Itself On Finding Iraq’s WMD
Interview With VP Dick Cheney On Weapons Inspections March 2003
2002 CIA White Paper On Iraq Vs The 2002-2003 U.N. Inspectors
Brown, David, “Invasion lacked legitimacy, Sir Jeremy Greenstock tells Chilcot inquiry,” Times of London, 11/28/09
Manning, David, “SECRET – STRICTLY PERSONAL,” 3/14/02
Marsden, Sam and Cordon, Gavin, “Iraq invasion was of questionable legitimacy, says envoy,” The Independent, 11/27/09
Melkle, James and Sparrow, Andrew, “Iraq war build-up ‘left us scrabbling for smoking gun’ says ex-UK ambassador,” Guardian, 11/26/09
Meyer, Ambassador Christopher, “CONFIDENTIAL AND PERSONAL,” British Embassy, Washington, 3/18/02
Burrough, Bryan, Peretz, Evgenia, Rose, David and Wise, David, “Path To War,” Vanity Fair, May 2004
RTT News, “British Investigation Into Iraq War Begins,” 11/24/09
Sparrow, Andrew, “Iraq inquiry – live,” Guardian, 11/27/09
Sparrow, Andrew and Melkle, James, “Iraq invasion legitimacy was in doubt, Chilcot inquiry told,” Guardian, 11/27/09
Stobart, Janet, “Blair words on Iraq changed after 2002 visit with Bush, Briton testifies,” Los Angeles Times, 11/27/09