Bush: Iraq war plans memo wrong
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President George W. Bush said Tuesday that there was "nothing farther from the truth" than allegations in a British government memorandum that his administration had decided to go to war in Iraq months before he took his case to the American people.
The British document -- known as the Downing Street memo since its publication in a British newspaper --says the Bush administration considered an invasion of Iraq to be "inevitable" as early as July 2002 and that "the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who met Tuesday with Bush at the White House, told reporters, "The facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all." Both leaders said they viewed military action as a last resort.
"Somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth," Bush said.
A U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and led to an ongoing conflict that, so far, has killed nearly 1,700 U.S. troops and 89 British troops.
Bush and Blair said the invasion was needed because Saddam was maintaining clandestine stockpiles of nerve gas, biological weapons and secret nuclear weapons and missile programs, but no such weapons turned up after the invasion.
The case for war
Bush administration officials began building the case for war in the late summer of 2002, warning Americans that Iraq was defying international sanctions mandating its disarmament.
In September 2002, Bush urged the United Nations to demand Iraq allow weapons inspectors back in.
A month later, Bush warned that the United States could not wait for "the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." And in the same month, the U.S. Congress gave him the authority to launch military action against Iraq -- authority he used in March 2003.
The Downing Street memo quotes the head of British intelligence, identified as "C," as saying in July 2002 that Bush "wanted to remove Saddam through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy."
It states the U.S. National Security Council had "no patience" for going to the United Nations, but described the case for war as "thin." It also questioned whether the invasion would be legal under international law.
British officials have not disputed the authenticity of the document, first published last month by the Times of London.
Blair said Tuesday the memo was written "before we then went to the United Nations" to demand Iraq demonstrate that it had complied with U.N. resolutions mandating its disarmament.
"No one knows more intimately the discussions that we were conducting as two countries at the time than me," he said.
"And the fact is, we decided to go to the United Nations and went through that process, which resulted in the November 2002 United Nations resolution to give a final chance to Saddam Hussein to comply with international law. He didn't do so, and that was the reason why we had to take military action."
After the minutes of the British meeting became public, 89 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Bush asking for an explanation. Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has said the White House has not answered the letter.
U.N. weapons inspectors were allowed back into Iraq in November 2002 and stayed in the country until March 17, 2003, when Bush issued an ultimatum to Saddam to leave power within 48 hours or face war.
U.S.-led inspectors later confirmed that Iraq had dismantled its weapons programs, though it had concealed some weapons-related research from the United Nations.
Tuesday, both leaders said the invasion was necessary because Saddam had flouted U.N. sanctions requiring his government to give up its weapons programs.
"The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power," Bush said.