US was warned of Iraq chaos, says ex-diplomat

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A former diplomat has revealed that the British mission to the United Nations opposed the policy of regime change in Iraq but was ordered by London to change its position in the lead-up to war.

The disclosure was made to MPs yesterday by Carne Ross, a member of the mission who resigned in protest at the Iraq war. He told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the US government was repeatedly warned by British diplomats that Iraq would fall apart if Saddam Hussein was toppled. But from mid-2002 instructions were received to change that view to fall in with the Bush administration.

Speaking in public for the first time since he left the diplomatic service two years ago, Mr Ross also confirmed suspicions that the Prime Minister made up his mind months before the Iraq invasion in March 2003 that the war was going to happen and British troops would take part. Mr Ross said when he was serving in the embassy in Afghanistan, as early as April 2002, British officials there knew troops were being held back in readiness for the Iraq invasion.

He claimed that when official documents from the Foreign Office are made public, they will prove that the view of British officials, repeatedly conveyed to the Americans, was that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would cause chaos.

He told MPs: "I took part in the bilateral discussion between the State Department and the Foreign Office for four years. One of the items repeatedly on the agenda was regime change. Whenever that item came up, the leader of our delegation would say, with emphasis: 'We do not believe regime change is a good idea in Iraq. The reason we do not believe that is because we believe Iraq will break up and there will be chaos if you do that'. That view will have been recorded in the telegrams that have remained secret, and will do for years. That was emphatically the unified view of the Foreign Office.

"That view changed in mid-2002. There was no basis for changing the view from what was going on inside Iraq. What changed was our view of what the future policy would be."

Mr Ross was in charge of imposing sanctions on Iraq when he handled Middle East policy at the British mission in the UN from 1998 to 2002. He was a friend and colleague of David Kelly, the government scientist who killed himself after being named as the source of leaks about the Iraq dossier. His evidence to Lord Butler of Brockwell's inquiry into the Iraq war has been kept secret. Mr Ross told MPs that his union's lawyer had warned him that he could be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if it was published. But he said it had "been on his conscience" for two years that his evidence had been withheld from the public and he was prepared to hand it over to the committee. He also gave a description of how foreign policy is set by groups of four of five officials, looking over their shoulders at all times to work out what the Prime Minister wants. Because the impact of foreign policy is felt far away, there was a "pact of irresponsibility" that allowed officials to get on with it without political supervision.

During the years when he was imposing sanctions on Iraq, he never felt that he was under scrutiny by Parliament or the public. He added: "There wasn't a component of moral accountability, for instance. I felt, looking back, that what I did on sanctions for Iraq was fundamentally wrong. Sanctions were ill-engineered, misdirected, targeted at the wrong group of people and caused, as a result, immense suffering in Iraq, and did not achieve the ends that they were designed to do."