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British panel begins inquiry on Iraq war

LONDON — An inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war began Tuesday with top government advisers testifying that some Bush administration officials were calling for Saddam Hussein's ouster as early as 2001 — long before sanctions were exhausted and two years before the U.S.-led invasion.

Led by a panel appointed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the inquiry can offer only reprimands and recommendations to avoid future mistakes.

The panel will question former Prime Minister Tony Blair on whether he secretly backed President George W. Bush's plans for invasion a year before Parliament authorized military involvement in 2003.

It will question dozens of officials over the next year — including military officials and spy agency chiefs, and also seek evidence but not testimony from ex-White House staff.

As the inquiry began, a small group of antiwar protesters gathered near Parliament. Three wore face masks of Bush, Blair and Brown — their hands and faces covered in fake blood.

Sir Peter Ricketts, chairman of Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee in 2001, said Britain had hoped for a strengthened policy of containment — reducing the threat posed by Iraq through sanctions, weapons inspections and security measures. The strategy had been in place since the 1991 Gulf War when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. But he said some in the Bush administration had a different vision.

"We were conscious that there were other voices in Washington, some of whom were talking about regime change," Ricketts said, citing an article written by former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice warning that nothing would change in Iraq until Hussein was gone.

British panel begins inquiry on Iraq war 11/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 10:14pm]
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