UK Hearing Reveals US Pondered Iraq Invasion in Early 2001

A hearing on the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War, which began Tuesday in Britain, revealed that the US was discussing plans to invade Iraq two years before the war’s beginning.

Officials disclosed in testimony that the British government was “aware of the drum beats in Washington” – the push toward war with Iraq – immediately after former President George W. Bush’s inauguration, well before the attacks of 9/11.

At that time, Britain was firmly opposed to military involvement.

“Our policy was to stay away from that,” Sir William Patey, former head of Middle East policy at Britain’s Foreign Office, testified.

Although UK officials were no fans of Saddam Hussein, they favored a policy of containment, combined with ongoing weapons inspection and sanctions, according to the hearing.

“We had more confidence in the weapons inspectors,” Sir Peter Ricketts, former director general political at Britain’s Foreign Office, said. “It was an area where we probably disagreed with many on the American side.”

The inquiry is expected to disclose other serious divides between the American and British perspectives on how to deal with Iraq.

Throughout the deployment of British troops to Iraq – they first entered Iraq in 2003 and were withdrawn last July – the decision faced very strong public opposition in the UK. British military involvement was later met with charges that Prime Minister Tony Blair had misled the country into believing Iraq held weapons of mass destruction.

The hearings, which may last more than 18 months, will include testimony from many of the key officials involved in Britain’s decision to invade Iraq.

In part, the hearings are an attempt to give the country’s sizable antiwar contingent a full voice, according to Sir John Chilcot, head of the inquiry.

“We don’t want to, and are not, just hearing from the ‘official’ representatives,” Chilcot said during his opening statement. “We value hearing a broad spectrum of views from a wide range of people and organizations. We want to know what people across Britain think are the important questions.”

For a live rundown of the inquiry, see The Guardian’s coverage.