Jack Straw recommended that Tony Blair should read an MI6 paper setting out a “route map for regime change” in Iraq, the inquiry into the war has heard.
The former foreign secretary said the December 2001 briefing by a senior officer from Britain’s overseas intelligence agency was “very perceptive” and sent a copy to 10 Downing Street.
Mr Straw was questioned about why he promoted this document despite his frequently stated position that regime change in Baghdad was not UK policy and could not be a legal justification for attacking Iraq.
He told the inquiry: “As secretary of state I would have read these papers late at night and scribbled on them, ‘these are very perceptive, make sure Number 10 see them’.
“That would have been translated into an official note from my private secretary. That does not mean I’ve endorsed the policy within those papers.”
The inquiry, led by Sir John Chilcot, has heard that the paper began: “At our meeting on 30 November we discussed how we could combine an objective of regime change in Baghdad with the need to protect important regional interests which would be a grave risk if a bombing campaign against Iraq were launched in the short term.”
The document was the second of three MI6 briefing notes on how to deal with Iraq sent to 10 Downing Street and Mr Straw’s office in early December 2001.
The foreign secretary’s private secretary wrote back to the then-head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove: “Thank you for your letter of 3 December which the Secretary of State has read. He thought the two papers very perceptive and hopes that the Prime Minister reads them. I’m sending a copy to David Manning (Mr Blair’s foreign policy adviser).”
Inquiry panel member Sir Roderic Lyne, a former senior diplomat, asked why Mr Straw commended a paper that suggested how Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq could be overthrown.
The former foreign secretary answered: “The view I have expressed publicly is the same as the views I expressed privately, that regime change was not a good idea for us to pursue as an objective, and in any event it was palpably illegal so it was not an option.”