Another smoking gun?

A British reader sends a link to this story. The anonymous sourcing makes it difficult to know how reliable an account it is, but it seems worth noting:

Tony Blair and George W Bush decided to invade Iraq weeks earlier than they have admitted, a new book by a human rights lawyer has claimed.

The book by Philippe Sands says the two leaders discussed going to war regardless of any United Nations view.

And it suggests the US wanted to provoke Saddam Hussein by sending a spy plane over Iraq in UN colours.

Downing Street said on Thursday it did not comment on discussions that “may or may not have happened” between leaders.

‘Disarm Saddam’

The revelations come in an updated edition of Mr Sands’ book Lawless World, which caused controversy when it was first published early last year.

The government has always insisted military action was used as a last resort against Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Mr Blair told MPs on 25 February 2003: “Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.”

But the new book centres on a two hour meeting between Mr Bush and Mr Blair at the White House three weeks earlier, on 31 January.

Professor Sands, a QC and professor of international law at University College London, says the two-hour meeting was also attended by six advisers.

The book quotes from a note it says was prepared by one of the participants.

According to the note, Mr Bush said the military campaign was pencilled in for March. Mr Blair is quoted as saying he was “solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam”.

The book claims Mr Blair only wanted a second UN Security Council resolution because it would make it easier politically to deal with Saddam.

And it says Mr Bush, told Mr Blair the US “was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours”.

If the Iraqis Saddam fired on them, the would be in breach of UN resolutions, he suggested.

Mr Bush is also quoted saying it was possible an Iraqi figure would defect and be able to give a “public presentation” of weapons of mass destruction.

The note said Mr Bush thought there was also “a small possibility that Saddam would be assassinated”.

The book also claims the president “thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups”.

None of this is especially surprising, if true, but neither was the Downing Street Memo, really. It all just confirms what any sufficiently cynical human being understood to be happening at the time. (And here, I use the term ‘cynic’ as Ambrose Bierce defined it: a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.)