June 20, 2005 Monday
SECTION: FOREIGN; Pg. 29
LENGTH: 326 words
HEADLINE: Bush grudge claim in memo
BYLINE: By THOMAS WAGNER in London
A SERIES of leaked secret Downing Street memos have renewed questions and debate about Washington's motives for ousting Saddam Hussein from Iraq.
U.S. President George W. Bush was lobbying for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's support, but British officials worried the White House was rushing into war, according to one memo.
Another shows when the chief foreign policy adviser dined with Condoleezza Rice six months after September 11, the then-U.S. national security adviser didn't want to discuss Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida. She wanted to talk about "regime change" in Iraq, setting the stage for the U.S.-led invasion a year later.
The documents confirm Mr Blair was genuinely concerned about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, but also indicate he was determined to go to war as America's top ally, even though his government thought a pre-emptive attack may be illegal under international law.
In one of the memos, British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts openly asks whether the Bush administration had a clear and compelling military reason for war.
"U.S. scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qaida is so far frankly unconvincing," Mr Ricketts says in the memo.
"For Iraq, 'regime change' does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam."
A typed copy of a March 22, 2002, memo written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw states: "The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September".
The eight memos - all labelled "secret" or "confidential" - were first obtained by British reporter Michael Smith, who has written about them in British newspapers The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.
Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert who teaches at Queen Mary College, University of London, said the documents confirmed that "soon after 9/11 happened, the starting gun was fired for the invasion of Iraq".