Former British Envoy: US, UK Desperately Wanted 'Smoking Gun' in Iraq

Christopher Meyers says the two governments were looking for justification for their 2003 invasion

Jennifer Glasse

The former British ambassador to the United States claims that the Bush administration was looking for a link between the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, and Saddam Hussein hours after the attacks took place.  He spoke at a public inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraqi War.

According to the former British ambassador to the United States, Christopher Meyer, British and American officials were desperately looking for a "smoking gun" that would justify their imminent invasion of Iraq in 2003. "We  found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun, which was another way of saying, 'It's not that Saddam has to prove himself innocent, we now bloody well have to prove he's guilty.'  And we've never -- we, the Americans, the British -- we've never really recovered from that," he said.

Meyer told the government-appointed panel that the Bush administration's stringent timetable for military action was too tight and that it did not allow enough time for U.N. inspectors to search for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Meyer said that Mr. Bush and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair might have agreed at the U.S. President's Texas ranch in April 2002 -- 11 months before the war -- that Saddam should be overthrown. "The two men were alone at the ranch until dinner on the Saturday night, where all the advisors, including myself, turned up.  So I am not entirely clear to this day; I am not entirely clear what  degree of convergence, if you like, was signed in blood at the Crawford ranch," he said.

But the day after the alleged meeting, Mr. Blair spoke publicly about regime change in Iraq for the first time. "If necessary, the action should be military.  And again, if necessary and justified, it should involve regime change," he said.

Meyer said he thought the speech represented an abrupt change in British policy on Iraq. "When I heard that speech, I thought that this represents a tightening of the U.S.-U.K. alliance and the degree of convergence on the danger that Saddam Hussein presented," he said.

Menzies Campbell was the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain when the allies moved into Iraq in 2003.  He was also the foreign affairs spokesman of the only political party in the U.K. to opposed the war at the time.

Campbell said he is optimistic the inquiry will yield answers. "This is a different kind of inquiry with a comprehensive brief to examine everything.  And it's an inquiry which has made it plain that it's willing to assert its independence at least in terms of a process, and that is encouraging," he said.

Thursday was the third day of the official inquiry into the war.

Mr. Blair is expected to appear before the panel early next year.  His testimony is eagerly anticipated because, analysts say, he might have answers to many questions about Iraq and Britain's involvement in the invasion.  The inquiry is not expected to report its findings until late nest year or early 2011.

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