M A I N   N E W S

Bush motives on Iraq suspect again

London, June 18
When Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser dined with Condoleezza Rice six months after 9/11, the then-US national security adviser didn’t want to discuss Osama bin Laden or Al-Qaida. She wanted to talk about “regime change” in Iraq, setting the stage for the US-led invasion more than a year later.

US President George W. Bush wanted Blair’s support, but British officials worried the White House was rushing to war, according to a series of leaked secret Downing Street memos that have renewed questions and debate about Washington’s motives for ousting Saddam Hussein.

In one of the memos, British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts asks whether the Bush administration had a clear and compelling military reason for war.

“US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al-Qaida is so far frankly unconvincing,” Mr Ricketts says in the memo. “For Iraq, ‘regime change’ does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam.”

The documents confirm Mr Blair was genuinely concerned about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, but also indicate he was determined to go to war as America’s top ally, even though his government thought a pre-emptive attack may be illegal under international law.

“The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September,” said a typed copy of a March 22, 2002, memo obtained on Thursday by The Associated Press and written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

“But even the best survey of Iraq’s WMD programs will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW (chemical or biological weapons) fronts: the programs are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.”

The eight memos—all labelled “secret” or “confidential” were first obtained by British reporter Michael Smith, who has written about them in The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times. Smith said he protected the identity of the source he had obtained the documents from by typing copies of them on plain paper and destroying the originals.

A senior British official who reviewed the memos said their content appeared authentic.

Mr Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert who teaches at Queen Mary College, University of London, said the documents confirmed what post-invasion investigations had found.

“The documents show what official inquiries in Britain already have, that the case of weapons of mass destruction was based on thin intelligence and was used to inflate the evidence to the level of mendacity,” Mr Dodge said.

Mr Dodge said the memos also showed Mr Blair was aware of the post-war instability that was likely among Iraq’s complex mix of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds once Saddam was defeated.

The British documents confirm, as well, that “soon after 9/11 happened, the starting gun was fired for the invasion of Iraq,” Mr Dodge said. — AP

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