London: The United States followed its own military timetable for the 2003 invasion of Iraq rather than allowing diplomacy to run its full course, the former British ambassador to the United Nations said on Friday.
Jeremy Greenstock told a British inquiry into the Iraq war that he did not think that UN inspectors had been given enough time to search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), cited as the reason for war, before the March 2003 invasion.
No such weapons were found after the US-led invasion and overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but Greenstock said he remained convinced Iraq was hiding something.
"There was a concealment committee established by Iraq and they were very good at it," he told the inquiry.
He said he believed war would probably still have followed if the United States had agreed to delay the use of force until October, but that the campaign would have had greater legitimacy.
Military planners wanted to launch the campaign early enough to avoid fighting during the hot summer months, he said.
In an opening written statement, Greenstock said only US president George W Bush was in a position to "switch off" the planning ahead of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
"The US and the UK had, well before then, decided that the threat from Iraq, which was genuinely perceived as including the potential threat of the use of WMD, could only be terminated either if Saddam Hussein conceded absolutely everything the resolutions demanded or if his regime fell."
"If this was to be achieved through a UN route, that had to happen on a US-ordained timing," he added.
Greenstock, British ambassador at the United Nations from 1998 to 2003, was appearing on the fourth day of a public inquiry into the invasion and subsequent war in which 179 British soldiers were killed.