Saddam options 'discussed a year before Iraq war'

British officials privately discussed the prospect of "regime change" in Iraq in late 2001 - more than a year before the invasion - the Iraq War inquiry was told today.

Giving evidence on the first day of public hearings, Sir William Patey, a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office official, said the idea of ousting Saddam Hussein had been discussed in an internal FCO paper.

However, he said it been dismissed at the time as having "no basis in law".

Sir William, who was head of the FCO Middle East Department, said he had asked his staff to look at all the options for dealing with the growing threat from Saddam.

"This is a paper I commissioned from my staff and said 'Come on, let's have the whole range of options out here'," he said.

He said it went from "'hard' containment to 'soft' containment, to the lifting of sanctions, to - I have to say - we had at the end the regime-change option - which was dismissed at the time as having no basis in law.

"It was very much an internal paper. We didn't go into how to achieve regime change."

The inquiry heard that even in early 2001, elements of the new US administration of President George Bush were already discussing the possibility of "regime change" in Iraq.

Sir Peter Ricketts, who was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), said there was concern in both London and Washington that the strategy of "containment" of Saddam Hussein was "failing".

The strategy - which had been the basis of US and British policy since the 1991 Gulf War - involved sanctions combined with an offer to lift them if Saddam allowed United Nations weapons inspectors to return, and the northern and southern "no fly" zones.

Sir Peter said that by 2001 all three strands were "in trouble" due to the rise of smuggling, Saddam's growing standing in the Arab world and the increasing unpopularity of the measures in Iraq.

Britain had favoured a strengthened "smart sanctions regime" - a position initially backed by senior figures in the Bush administration like Secretary of State Colin Powell.

However he said they were aware there were other influential figures in Washington who were taking a harder line.

"We were conscious that there were other voices in Washington, some of whom were talking about regime change," he said.

He cited an article written by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice warning that "nothing will change" in Iraq until Saddam was gone.

Sir William added: "We were aware of these drum beats from Washington and internally we discussed it. Our policy was to stay away from that."

At the same time, Sir Peter said there was concern within the JIC that Saddam was continuing to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

"In 2001 we were seeing an acceleration of work on missile programmes, we saw increased Iraq efforts to secure material for the nuclear programme and we saw continuing interest in CW (chemical weapons) research and development," he said.

Following the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, he said there had been a further hardening of opinion in the US.

"We heard people in Washington thought there might be some link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden - undocumented. I don't think we saw any evidence of it," he said.

"The tone of voice was more if there turns out to be any link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden that is going to have major implications for Iraq and Saddam Hussein."

Simon Webb, who was policy director at the Ministry of Defence, said the change in the US was "dramatic".

"The shift in thinking was to say that we cannot afford to wait for these threats to materialise. We must be ready to engage potential threats wherever they emerge," he said.

While the initial response concentrated on Afghanistan - where the 9/11 attacks had originated - Sir Peter said that, from November 2001, he began to hear talk in Washington of a "phase 2" in the "war on terror".

He said the attacks also had the effect of making the Pentagon rather than the State Department the "dominant instrument" in American foreign policy.

Mr Webb said that while there was no immediate change of policy in Washington to support regime change, that was where the policy debate was heading.

"The focus didn't shift to regime change. It shifted to the weapons of mass destruction problem which, in the case of Iraq, in order to deal with the weapons of mass destruction problem, you would probably end up having to push Saddam Hussein out of power," he said.

Sir Peter said that while the attacks had raised the "salience and prominence" of counter-terrorism and the non-proliferation of WMD in Whitehall, they did not at that stage affect Britain's policy on Iraq.

"We still had our focus on the weapons inspector route and the sanctions-type route. We had heard these noises about regime change. They weren't really impinging on the Whitehall policy debate at that point," he said.

He said that if the 9/11 attacks had not happened, Britain would continued to have pursued its policy of strengthening sanctions through the UN Security Council.

"I'm pretty sure we would have stuck to our guns on the policy we had," he said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk