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30 November 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 2:28am

Iraq inquiry: Manning’s evidence

Blair tried to persuade Bush to go "UN route" after signing up to "regime change"

By James Macintyre

For anyone logging on to this in “real time”, you can watch the fascinating evidence to the Chilcot Iraq inquiry of Sir David Manning, Tony Blair’s former foreign policy adviser, on the inquiry’s website here.

To summarise the evidence so far:

Manning is painting Blair as a multilateralist who tried repeatedly to get President Bush to obtain a second UN resolution for the Iraq invasion throughout 2002. He says that Bush was being given conflicting advice from those who neither cared about the UN nor wanted the weapons inspectors to return to Iraq, and those — including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser — who favoured a multilateral approach. The latter group especially tried to persuade Bush of the UN route at a meeting at the White House on 5 August. The former group, he recalled, saw the UN as an “obstacle”. “There were Americans who did not want the inspectors to go back into Iraq,” he said.

Manning says he told Blair at Chequers in July 2002 that the UN route was still a possibility. He described the meeting as a “key moment in this story”. This, of course, was four months after another “key moment”: the memo Manning wrote on 14 March 2002, after dining with Rice, in which he said:

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We spent a long time at dinner on Iraq. It is clear that Bush is grateful for your support and has registered that you are getting flak. I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States.

Asked about this commitment, he claimed that he meant the Saddam “regime would have changed itself” if it had accepted the UN’s demands relating to weapons: this “would have changed the regime in a profound way”. Strangely, at the time of writing, he is not being pressed fully on this fresh claim.

UPDATE: Manning has not accepted that Blair was in favour of “regime change” and would be “delighted” to see the back of Saddam. This apparently contrasts with Blair’s claim to the Commons in February 2003 that, “even now”, Saddam could have saved his regime by complying with international demands.

UPDATE: Manning has said that after the “traumatic” atrocities of 9/11 he wanted to make sure America wasn’t seen as being on its own.

UPDATE: Manning says that, politically, the UK’s support for the invasion was an “asset” to the US, but that militarily the significance of UK involvement should not be exaggerated.

UPDATE: Pressed on this, he has confirmed that UK involvement wasn’t seen as “essential”. This backs the revelations in the Bob Woodward books about Bush that he told Blair he did not have to take part in the invasion. That Blair insisted on paying the “blood price” even when he didn’t have to will be difficult news for the families of the dead soldiers to take in.

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