Iraq inquiry: George Bush was determined to overthrow Saddam even if he obeyed UN, inquiry member hints

GEORGE Bush warned Tony Blair the United States was going ahead with the invasion of Iraq "come what may", evidence heard at the official inquiry into the conflict has suggested.

Sir Lawrence Freedman, a member of the inquiry panel, yesterday hinted that they had seen records of conversations indicating the then US president was determined to overthrow Saddam Hussein, even if he co-operated fully with United Nations' weapons inspectors.

The disclosure came as former foreign secretary Jack Straw was making his second appearance before the inquiry. There has been intense speculation about the private communications between then UK prime minister Tony Blair and the US president in the run-up to the war, details of which have been made available to the inquiry team although they have not been released publicly.

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Sir Lawrence, a military historian, asked Mr Straw: "Can you start by confirming that you knew that military action was planned by the US for the middle of March, come what may? You were copied in, presumably, to reports of conversations between the prime minister and the president?"

Mr Straw, who is now the Justice Secretary, replied: "Yes, I don't think there was any key document that I should have seen that I didn't."

Sir Lawrence then went on to ask him about his own conversations with then US secretary of state Colin Powell. "Was there any point where Powell said to you that even if Iraq complied, President Bush had already made a decision he intended to go to war?"

Mr Straw responded: "Certainly not to the best of my recollection." Sir Lawrence then said: "I was going to suggest you might want to look through your conversations and check."

Mr Straw said: "I will go through the records because I think you are trying to tell me something." Sir Lawrence went on: "Please do check because I don't think the suggestion is what the British position would have been, it's whether the president's own mind was made up."

The conversations appeared to relate to the period in late 2002 and early 2003, when UN inspectors, led by Hans Blix, were searching for Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction.

In his evidence to the inquiry last month, Mr Blair said that Mr Bush had told him on several occasions that they would have to "take yes for answer" if the "UN route" worked and Saddam co-operated with the inspectors.

The latest disclosure is likely to increase pressure for Mr Blair to be recalled when the inquiry resumes in the summer after the general election.

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Mr Straw, meanwhile, denied blocking detailed Cabinet discussion on the advice of the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, on the legality of military action against Iraq.

He insisted he had no recollection of then international development secretary Clare Short's claim that she was "jeered" when she tried to question his opinion.

The inquiry has previously released declassified documents showing Mr Straw warned Lord Goldsmith not to disclose that the legal arguments were "finely balanced" when he presented his advice to the Cabinet on 17 March, 2003, on the eve of the crucial Commons vote on war. Mr Straw acknowledged he had been concerned about the possibility of leaks if ministers were told, but insisted they were all fully aware of the issues.

The inquiry was adjourned until later this month or early March, when Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband will appear.


TONY Blair has attacked the hunt for a "conspiracy" and a "scandal" over his decision to commit British troops to the Iraq war in 2003.

The former prime minister spoke out ten days after a six-hour grilling by the inquiry.

Asked yesterday on US television why the UK had held a succession of investigations into the invasion, he said: "I think it's partly because we have this curious habit where people find it hard to come to the point where they say: we disagree.

"There's always got to be a scandal as to why you hold your view. There's got to be some conspiracy behind it, some great deceit that's gone on, and people just find it hard to understand that it's possible for people to have different points of view for genuine reasons."