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Originally published May 6, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 14, 2005 at 1:59 PM

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Memo disputes Bush Iraq claims

A highly classified British memo, leaked during Britain's just-concluded election campaign, claims President Bush decided by summer 2002...

Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON — A highly classified British memo, leaked during Britain's just-concluded election campaign, claims President Bush decided by summer 2002 to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and was determined to ensure that U.S. intelligence data supported his policy.

The memo, in which British foreign-policy aide Matthew Rycroft summarized a July 23, 2002, meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair with top security advisers, reports on a U.S. visit by Richard Dearlove, then head of Britain's MI-6 intelligence service.

The visit took place while the Bush administration was declaring to Americans that no decision had been made to go to war. While the memo makes observations about U.S. intentions toward Iraq, the document does not specify which Bush administration officials met with Dearlove.

The MI-6 chief's account of his U.S. visit was paraphrased by the memo: "There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. ... There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."

No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003.

The White House repeatedly has denied accusations by top foreign officials that intelligence estimates were manipulated. It instead has noted the conclusions of studies by the Senate Intelligence Committee and a presidentially appointed panel that cite serious failures by the CIA and other U.S. agencies in judging Saddam's weapons programs.

Information


The memo can be read at:

www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1593607,00.html

The principal U.S. intelligence analysis, called a National Intelligence Estimate, wasn't completed until October 2002, well after the United States and United Kingdom apparently had decided military force should be used to overthrow Saddam's regime.

The memo, first disclosed in full by the Sunday Times of London, hasn't been disavowed by the British government. A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington referred queries to another official, who didn't return calls.

A White House official said the administration wouldn't comment on the leaked document.

However, a former senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, called it "an absolutely accurate description of what transpired" during Dearlove's visit to Washington.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, is circulating a letter among fellow Democrats asking Bush for an explanation of the charges, an aide said.

In July 2002, and well afterward, top Bush administration advisers were insisting that "there are no plans to attack Iraq on the president's desk."

But the memo quotes British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, a close colleague of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, as saying "Bush had made up his mind to take military action."

Straw is quoted as having doubts about the Iraqi threat.

"But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran," Straw said, according to the memo.

The document said Straw proposed that Saddam be given an ultimatum to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors, which could help justify use of force. Powell in August 2002 persuaded Bush to push for such inspections.

But there were deep divisions in the White House over that course of action.

The memo says the National Security Council, then led by Condoleezza Rice, "had no patience with the U.N. route."

Supplemental information

was provided by Seattle Times staff, based on a reading of the memo.

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