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23 November 2009

Iraq inquiry: when did UK sign up for regime change?

The key issue is 2002 Manning memo

By James Macintyre

Following George’s post on the Chilcot inquiry, which begins hearings tomorrow, I just want to add my tuppenceworth and reiterate the point that, if the inquiry does its job, the full context of the infamous “Manning memo” — written by Tony Blair’s foreign policy adviser David Manning as early as 14 March 2002 — must now emerge.

Reminder: Manning had dined with Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush’s national security adviser. In a memo to Blair, he wrote:

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.

This was contradicted in February 2003 when, on the eve of war, Blair said:

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I detest [Saddam’s] regime, but even now he could save it by complying with the UN’s demands.

The inquiry must somehow square the circle of these conflicting positions.

Meanwhile, it appears that senior intelligence figures will give evidence, including John Sawers, the head of MI6. A former British ambassador to Baghdad, Sir John was close to Blair and might be expected to protect his former boss. But he also sent a private memo in 2003 describing the allied strategy as “an unbelievable mess” (scroll down). His evidence will be fascinating to watch.

 

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