Iraq inquiry: British officials heard 'drum beats' of war from US before 9/11 :
The first session of Sir John's public inquiry into the events before, during and after the war is hearing evidence from senior civil servants about British policy and plans for Iraq in 2001.
The British policy on Iraq was put under formal review at the start of 2001, when George W Bush arrived in the White House as US president.
Sir William Patey, then head of Middle East policy at Foreign Office said that in February 2001, the UK knew that some in the new US administration wanted to topple Saddam.
He said: "We were aware of the drum beats from Washington.However, he said that Britain was not then willing to engage in regime change in Baghdad. Our policy was to stay away from that."
Sir Peter Ricketts, then the political director at the FCO, recalled that in the summer of 2000, Condoleeza Rice, Mr Bushs national security adviser, had written an academic article suggesting Saddam should be removed.
But the inquiry heard that in 2001, the settled view of the UK government was that attacking Iraq would have been illegal under international law.Sir Peter said: "We quite clearly distanced our self from regime change. It was clear that was something there would not be any legal base for."
In 2001, Britain and the US were committed to a policy of containing Saddam, through economic sanctions, restricting his oil sales through the oil-for-food programme, and the imposition of no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq. The two diplomats told the inquiry that the containment policy was failing in 2001, but that it could have been been viable if the United Nations had agreed a new "smart sanctions" regime in July 2001.
The new sanctions regime would also have thwarted those in the US who were arguing for a more confrontational policy towards Iraq.The new sanctions regime would have certainly satisfied us, Sir William said. It would have been arguable even against the hawks in Washington.
But Russia refused to back the new sanctions, because of its commercial interests in Iraq. The Russians were being given lots of contracts. It was virtually impossible to change the Russian view, Sir William said.
Sir Peter also revealed that there was a disagreement between Britain and the US about whether it was worth trying to get UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq.There was a dominant feeling in the US that a weapons inspection regime was risky, he said. Some Americans felt Saddam would pull the wool over the inspectors eyes about his military programes.Sir Peter said: We had more confidence in the weapons inspectors. It was an area where we probably disagreed with many on the American side.