British and American officials secretly discussed overthrowing Saddam Hussein two years before the invasion of Iraq, a public inquiry into the war was told today, the Times of London reported.

Foreign Office officials said they feared that United Nations’ sanctions against Iraq were losing support amid growing concern about weapons of mass destruction in 2001, the paper reported.

Sir Peter Ricketts, then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, told the opening day of the official inquiry into the Iraq war that he was aware of a “background noise” of discussion in the United States to overthrowing the Iraqi regime following the election of President Bush, according to the paper.

He said a review of the Iraq policy was already under way in Whitehall in anticipation of the arrival of the new Bush Administration.

Sir Peter said that British officials were “conscious” of an article by Condoleezza Rice, who later became Secretary of State, that was published in Foreign Affairs magazine before the new administration entered the White House. In it she discussed overthrowing Saddam and introduced the concept of "rogue states," the paper reported.

“We did hear voices around Washington of arming [Iraqi] opposition groups but it did not feel like an operation,” Sir Peter told the inquiry.

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