LONDON — American troops did not expect to play a role in stabilizing Iraq after overthrowing Saddam Hussein, a key adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said today.
David Manning, who served as a Blair’s top foreign policy aide before being appointed ambassador to Washington in 2003, told a British inquiry into the Iraq war the American military did not believe peacekeeping was their responsibility.
“The American military thought that they were fighting a war and when the war was over they were expecting to go home,” he said.
Manning said British troops in Basra talked to local people, but American troops were not willing to do the same.
“I was very struck … by the reluctance of U.S. soldiers to get out of their tanks, to take off their helmets and to trying to build up links with local communities,” he said. “They looked still much more in fighting mode than in peacekeeping mode.”
He also said he believed Paul Bremer — the U.S. diplomat charged with overseeing the reconstruction of Iraq — made the situation worse by trying to purge the army and police of members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party.
The inquiry, which is in its second week, is not set up to apportion blame or hold anyone liable for the conflict, but it does have the potential to embarrass officials in the U.S. and Britain who argued — wrongly — that the war was justified because Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction and building close links with al-Qaida.
Jeremy Greenstock, the former British ambassador to the United Nations, told the inquiry on Friday that the U.S. was “hell bent” on war with Iraq from the very beginning and undermined efforts by Britain to win international authorization for the invasion.
Manning’s predecessor as ambassador to the United States, Christopher Meyer, also testified that the U.S. was looking for connections between Iraq and Sept. 11 within hours of the attacks.
Manning echoed Meyer’s claim, saying that then-President George W. Bush talked about possible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, right after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but that Blair had counseled caution.
“The prime minister’s response to this was that the evidence would have to be very compelling indeed to justify taking any action against Iraq,” Manning said, adding that the British leader followed the conversation up with a letter stressing the need to focus on the situation in Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was based.
Manning said Blair had initially said Britain could only support the United States in military action against Iraq through the United Nations, though he did later accept that military action may be possible during a meeting with Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.
“I look back at Crawford as the moment that he (Blair) was saying: ‘Yes, there is a route through this that is an international, peaceful one, and it is through the U.N. But if it doesn’t work, we will be willing to undertake regime change.’”