The chairman of the British Joint Intelligence Committee in 2001 told investigators Monday that elements of the Bush Administration were pushing for regime change in Iraq in early 2001, months before the 9/11 attacks and two years before President George W. Bush formally announced the Iraq war.
Sir Peter Ricketts, now-Secretary at the Foreign Office, said that US and British officials believed at the time that measures against Iraq were failing: "sanctions, an incentive to lift sanctions if Saddam allowed the United Weapons inspectors to return, and the 'no fly' zones over the north and south of the country."
Ricketts also said that US officials had raised the prospect of regime change in Iraq, asserting that the British weren't supportive of the idea at the time.
"We were conscious that there were other voices in Washington, some of whom were talking about regime change," Ricketts said.
The head of the British Foreign Office's Middle East department, Sir William Patey, told the inquiry that his office was aware of regime change talk from some parts of the Bush Administration shortly after they took office in 2001.
"In February 2001 we were aware of these drum beats from Washington and internally we discussed it," Patey said. "Our policy was to stay away from that."
"We didn't think Saddam was a good thing, and it would be great if he went, but we didn't have an explicit policy for trying to get rid of him," he added.
A third official, who was policy director for the British Defense Ministry at the time, said the discussions between the US and Britain "weren't serious."
"The question of regime overthrow was, I recall, mentioned but it was quite clear that there was no proposition being put in our direction on that," he quipped.
News of the British officials comments were first reported Tuesday in the UK Independent.
Interestingly, the head of Britain's Intelligence Committee told investigators that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared to be in charge of US policy on Iraq until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Up till then we felt that dealing with the State Department, we were dealing with the people who were forming the policy," Ricketts said.
British investigators are probing how Britain got into the Iraq war and if officials misled the public. Already, a leaked report has shown that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair covered up British military plans for a full Iraq invasion throughout 2002, claiming at the time that Britain's objective was "disarmament, not regime change."
According to Britain's Sunday Telegraph, the leaked report condemns the almost complete absence of contingency planning as a potential breach of Geneva Convention obligations to safeguard civilians. Coalition forces were “ill-prepared and equipped to deal with the problems in the first 100 days” of the occupation.
Blair's lies to Parliament and the public, widespread problems with the Army's supply chain and radio systems, and poor planning for "once Baghdad had fallen" are now confirmed in the public eye.
Particularly egregious are statements Blair made to Parliament in the build up to the invasion. On Sept 24, 2002, Mr. Blair told members of the British Parliament, “In respect of any military options, we are not at the stage of deciding those options but, of course, it is important — should we get to that point — that we have the fullest possible discussion of those options.”
With reporting by Gavin Dahl.