'No Basis in Law' to Oust Saddam; Inquiry into Iraq War Starts

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BRITISH officials secretly discussed the prospects for "regime change" in Iraq in late 2001 - more than a year before the invasion - the official inquiry into the war was told yesterday.

On the first day of public hearings in London, the inquiry, headed by Sir John Chilcot, heard that Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials drew up an internal "options" paper which included the possibility of ousting Saddam Hussein.

However Sir William Patey, the then head of the FCO's Middle East department, said the idea had been swiftly rejected on the grounds that there was "no basis in law" for such action.

The inquiry, which took evidence from a series of senior FCO and Ministry of Defence officials, heard that a two-page paper was drawn up against a background of growing impatience in the United States with the strategy of "containment" of Saddam.

The international sanctions regime was "in trouble", while there were increasing concerns that Saddam was making progress in his efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

"This is a paper I commissioned from my staff and said 'Come on, let's have the whole range of options out here. …