WMD or not, Bush was set on warpath
US President George W Bush made clear to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in January 2003 that he was determined to invade Iraq without a UN resolution, The New York Times reported in its Monday edition.
Bush made his stance clear of attacking Iraq even if UN arms inspectors failed to find weapons of mass destruction in the country.
Citing a confidential British memorandum, the newspaper said the president was certain that war was inevitable.
Bush made his view known during a private two-hour meeting with Blair in the Oval Office on January 31, 2003.
Information about the meeting was contained in the memo written by Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The Times.
"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," the paper quotes David Manning, Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, as noting in the memo.
" 'The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled in for March 10,' Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. 'This was when the bombing would begin'," the paper continued.
The timetable came at an important diplomatic moment, the paper said.
Five days after the Bush-Blair meeting, then US Secretary of State Colin Powell was scheduled to appear before the United Nations.
He was to present evidence that Iraq posed a threat to world security by hiding unconventional weapons.
Stamped "extremely sensitive," the five-page memorandum had not been made public, according to the report.
Several highlights were first published in January in the book Lawless World, which was written by British lawyer and international law professor Philippe Sands.
In early February, Channel 4 in London first broadcast excerpts from the memo.
But since then, The New York Times has been able to review the five-page memo in its entirety.
The document indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable, the paper said.
Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups."
Blair agreed with that assessment.
The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq, The Times noted.
Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation.
This included a proposal to paint a US surveillance plane in the colours of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.