LONDON — The United States was "hell bent" on a 2003 military invasion of Iraq and actively undermined efforts by Britain to win international authorization for the war, a former British diplomat told an inquiry Friday.
Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2003, said President George W. Bush had no real interest in attempts to agree on a U.N. resolution to provide explicit backing for the conflict.
The ex-diplomat, who served as Britain's envoy in Iraq after the invasion, said preparations for war had begun in early 2002 and took on unstoppable momentum.
As diplomats frantically attempted in early 2003 to agree on a U.N. resolution approving a military offensive, Bush's key aides grew impatient, he said.
Grumbling from Washington "included noises about 'this is a waste of time, what we need is regime change, why are we bothering with this, we must sweep this aside and do what's going to have to be done anyway — and deal with this with the use of force,' " Greenstock testified in the inquiry into the Iraq war.
Several nations had hoped to stall the invasion to allow U.N. weapons inspectors more time to search for evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — the key justification for the war. No such weapons were found.
Yet Bush's inner circle cared little about what international allies thought and refused to halt plans to invade in March 2003, Greenstock said. He said even then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was unable to persuade Bush, getting only two weeks.
"The momentum for earlier action in the United States was much too strong for us to counter," Greenstock said in a written statement to the inquiry, provided with his live testimony.
Britain's inquiry is the most exhaustive study yet into the war and will seek evidence from Blair, military officials and spy agency chiefs. It won't apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability, but it will offer recommendations by late 2010 on how to prevent mistakes from being repeated in the future.
Greenstock told the five-person inquiry panel that the failure to win U.N. approval for the war had seriously undermined the legitimacy of the conflict.
He said he believed the U.S.-led invasion was legal — critics say it violated international law — but was of "questionable legitimacy."