The memo, written on 31 January 2003, almost two months before the invasion and seen by the Observer, confirms that as the two men became increasingly aware UN inspectors would fail to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) they had to contemplate alternative scenarios that might trigger a second resolution legitimising military action.
Bush told Blair the US had drawn up a provocative plan “to fly U2 reconnaissance aircraft painted in UN colours over Iraq with fighter cover”. Bush said that if Saddam fired at the planes this would put the Iraqi leader in breach of UN resolutions.
The five-page document, written by Blair’s foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, and copied to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK ambassador to the UN, Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, the chief of the defence staff, Admiral Lord Boyce, and the UK’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, outlines how Bush told Blair he had decided on a start date for the war.
Paraphrasing Bush’s comments at the meeting, Manning, noted: “The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled in for 10 March. This was when the bombing would begin.”
The memo notes there had been a shift in the two men’s thinking on Iraq by late January 2003 and that preparing for war was now their priority. “Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,” Manning writes. This was despite the fact Blair that had yet to receive advice on the legality of the war from the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, which did not arrive until 7 March 2003 – 13 days before the bombing campaign started.