Two senior British officials say there was no evidence of serious cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and only sporadic contacts in the years before.

The officials, counter-proliferation specialist Tim Dowes and Foreign Office security chief William Ehrman, spoke Wednesday to a panel reviewing Britain's role in the Iraq war.

Dowes told panel members there was little new intelligence on Iraq or its capacity for weapons of mass destruction since the late 1990s.  He said analysts determined those early contacts did not look like collusion, and said he believed U.S. operatives shared that assessment.

Ehrman said there was scattered evidence that Iraq may have possessed disassembled components of chemical-biological weaponry.    But he described that data as inconclusive and said analysts generally doubted Baghdad had the technology to deliver such payloads.

Inquiry chairman John Chilcot opened the hearings Tuesday with a moment of silence for those killed in the conflict.

Former top British intelligence officer Peter Ricketts on Tuesday said British officials decided in 2001 against participating in talks with U.S. officials about regime change in Iraq.

Ricketts said British officials were aware months before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States that the Bush administration was pressing for the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.  But he said the U.S. rhetoric did not seem like a draft of an operations plan.

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

Relatives of the British dead and anti-war protesters have long argued 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, AP and Reuters.