BAGHDAD (Middle East Eye) – Former U.S. president George W Bush told former British prime minister Tony Blair he did not know who would replace Saddam Hussein in Iraq when they toppled him and that he “did not much care”, according to an explosive top secret account of the meeting. The former U.S. president was blithe about the consequences of launching an invasion at a crucial meeting with the British prime minister at his Texas ranch in 2002, almost a year before the war was launched.
“He didn’t know who would take Saddam’s place if and when we toppled him. But he didn’t much care,” the British memo, written by Blair’s top foreign policy adviser at the time, reads.
Bush believed - but the memo says he would not say publicly – that the Iraq invasion should go forwards in a way to appease Saudi Arabia - a close U.S. ally.
Bush also “reassured the Turks that there was no question of the break-up of Iraq and the emergence of a Kurdish state”.
The memo also reveals how as early as April 2002, more than eight months before United Nations weapons inspectors went into Iraq, Blair was aware that they might have to “adjust their approach” should Saddam give them free rein.
This is believed to be the first reference to a strategy which ended with the creation of the infamous “dodgy dossier” of concocted intelligence making the case for war, key details of which were later admitted to be false.
The memo hardens the central findings of the public inquiry into the war led by John Chilcot which concluded in 2016 that the UK chose to join the invasion before peaceful options had been explored, that Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam, and that Bush ignored advice on post-war planning.
It was written by David Manning, Blair’s top foreign policy adviser, one day after the meeting at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Saturday 6 April 2002.
Apart from Bush and Blair, only a handful of officials were present from both sides, and much of the discussion between the two leaders was conducted one-on-one.
The president and prime minister had developed a particularly close relationship in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks in the U.S., following which Blair had pledged to “stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends”. The two trusted and confided in each other more than they did some of their own colleagues.
The UK had been a key supporter and participant in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Iraq, which had long been subject to UN sanctions imposed over Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, had also been in U.S. sights since the launch of the so-called “war on terror”.