Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was not considered one of the main security threats for Britain in the years before the country was invaded, according to testimony from British foreign office officials on Wednesday.
William Ehrman, the Foreign Office's director of international security from 2000 to 2002, told an inquiry into Britain's involvement in the Iraq war that in terms of nuclear capability and missiles, other countries were considered a higher priority.
"I think Iran, North Korea and Libya were probably of greater concern than Iraq," said Ehrman in testimony on the second day of hearings, which are examining the lead up to the war.
The probe is looking into whether former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair pledged support for former U.S. president George Bush's invasion of Iraq even before the U.K. parliament approved military involvement in 2003.
Blair is expected to appear before the panel early next year.
The investigation's panel, which was appointed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, won't lay blame, or establish criminal or civil liability, but instead offer reprimands if warranted and make recommendations. It is scheduled to conclude late in 2010.
Al-Qaeda, Iraq weren't allies: official
Tim Dowse, who was the Foreign Office's head of counter-proliferation between 2001 to 2003, also testified Wednesday and agreed with Ehrman's assessment, saying Iraq "wasn't top of the list" of threats.
"In terms of my concerns on coming into the job in 2001, I would say we put Libya and Iran ahead of Iraq," he said.
The United States and Britain, its main ally, invaded Iraq in 2003 in an effort to deny Saddam Hussein's regime weapons of mass destruction, though none were found. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell also told a UN panel leading up to the invasion that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda.
Dowse told the inquiry Wednesday that al-Qaeda's relationship with Hussein's regime, which was previously sporadic, actually got worse after 9/11.
"After 9/11 we concluded that Iraq actually stepped further back," said Dowse. "They did not want to be associated with al-Qaeda. They weren't natural allies."
The British military formally ended combat operations in Iraq on April 30 after six years by handing over control of its main base in Basra to an American brigade.
A total of 179 British soldiers lost their lives during the U.K. involvement in Iraq.