A former British ambassador to the United States says top U.S. officials began looking for possible links between former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Christopher Meyer says he spoke to then-U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on the day of the attacks.  He says Rice told him there was "no doubt" the attack was an al-Qaida operation.  He says Rice added that officials were looking into whether there could be any connection with Saddam Hussein.

Meyer commented in London Thursday, during testimony before a panel reviewing Britain's role in the Iraq war.

The five-member British inquiry team expects to question dozens of officials during the year-long probe, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and a group of military officials.

On Wednesday, two senior British officials, counter-proliferation specialist Tim Dowes and Foreign Office security chief William Ehrman, said there was only sporadic contact between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and no serious cooperation.

However, Meyer said Prime Minister Blair's attitude on Iraq seemed to harden following an April 2002 meeting between him and then- U.S. President George W. Bush at Mr. Bush's ranch in Texas.  Meyer said no advisers were present for much of the meeting.

Relatives of the British dead and anti-war protesters have long argued that the government used distorted intelligence, including unsubstantiated claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, to justify the invasion.

Britain deployed 45,000 troops to Iraq in 2003 to participate in the U.S.-led invasion.  One hundred-seventy nine British military personnel have been killed.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.