By politics.co.uk staff
Civil servants prevented an Iraq inquiry witness revealing how the government failed to consider available alternatives to military action, it has been claimed.
Carne Ross, Britain's Iraq expert at the United Nations in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, said he had been denied access to "key documents" he had worked on at the time before giving evidence last week.
He believes Britain could have undermined Saddam Hussein's regime by dealing with the "so-called Syrian pipeline, through which Iraq illegally exported oil".
"I was told that specific documents, such as the records of prime minister Tony Blair's visit to Syria, could not be found," he wrote in the Observer. "This is simply not plausible."
Mr Ross also raised problems about the public nature of the inquiry, which he suggested had made the process less open, not more so.
"I was repeatedly warned by inquiry staff not to mention any classified material during my testimony," he added.
"The only problem is that almost every document I ever wrote or read in my work was classified.
"It was made clear to me, and to journalists attending the hearing, that if I mentioned specific documents the broadcast of my testimony would be cut off. Other forms of retribution (Official Secrets Act prosecution?) hung in the air.
"It was a form of subtle intimidation."
Mr Ross "repeatedly advocated" alternatives to invasion including stopping oil exports or seizing Saddam's assets, but said these had been ignored.
"Here the documents tell a different but equally clear and appalling story: there is not a single mention of any formal discussion, by ministers or officials, of alternatives to military action," he wrote.
"It is hard to pinpoint a graver indictment of the government's failure."