Brief Chronology of the Most Relevant Facts of the Last Month Leading to the War in Iraq

On 22 February 2003, President Bush received in his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar. That was a key moment in understanding what was happening and what should have happened. Premier Blair and President Berlusconi participated in the meeting through a conference call. According to Spanish Ambassador Javier Rupérez, present at the Ranch, and who took the minutes of the meeting eventually published by El Pais, the gathering was supposed to be off-the record. The minutes, which the Zapatero Government allowed to be published, recounted how Mr. Bush Believed it necessary and urgent to move towards war in Iraq. From the meeting it also emerged that Mr. Aznar had suggested to Mr. Bush to proceed with extreme prudence. During the meeting, the American President revealed what Mr. Berlusconi had communicated to him earlier, that is the positive answer of Saddam to the proposal to go in exile, obtained through Colonel Qaddafi.
Mr. Bush remained firm in refusing any agreement with the Iraqi dictator, judging the condition of Saddam as desperate and stating that "he could be killed within two months". Mr. Bush also added that Saddam - who during the meeting was labeled as "a thief, a terrorist, a war criminal, who if compared with Saddam, Milosevic should have been considered a Mother Teresa" – had asked for "one billion dollars" and that Mr. Bush had the necessary “information he wanted on weapons of mass destructions". At this point, Blair implored that the start of hostilities be delayed by a few days with respect to the proposed date of "10 March 2003". Bush was inflexible : he wanted war. Italian MEP Marco Pannella warned the Italian Government, EU Member States and Mr. Blair against trusting Qaddafi as a reliable mediator.
The unreliability of the Libyan leader was confirmed during a summit of the League of Arab States in Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt convened on 1 March 2003. According to converging witnesses, among whom that of Egyptian President Mubarak, Mr. Qaddafi succeeded in obstructing the League of Arab States - of which Libya is not a full member - from convening a meeting to discuss the proposal of the exile for Saddam, which should have been put forward at the summit by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan. During the last months of 2002, several officials sent by the President of the United Arab Emirates, Zayed al-Nahyan, had meeting with Saddam for, at least, four times. The Emir himself was about to announce that the Iraqi dictator was ready to accept the exile proposal and that was asking to receive it officially from the League of Arab States and "not from the Americans." An important plenary meeting was sabotaged by Qaddafi, who publicly attacked the Saudi delegation accusing them of being sold to the Americans for having allowed U.S. troops on their holy soil. The reaction of the Sauds prompted the obscuration of the live programming and disrupted the plenary into meeting behind closed doors. After the conclusions of the meeting, the Minister of Information of the United Arab Emirates announced to the press that the initiative undertaken by his country for a pacific change in regime in Iraq was also supported by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. " At the end of the meeting we also received support from other countries, but unfortunately these countries refused to confront the problem in discussion tables. All Arab states agreed that Saddam should give up his power, but no one had the courage to say it in public."
On 6 March 2003, official Arab sources mentioned that the "Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria and the League of Arab States had announced a mission to Baghdad asking Saddam to leave the country and hence avoid war". At the same time, during the UN General Assembly, the Ambassador of Pakistan, Munir Akram, communicated that Saddam had conditioned the acceptance of the exile with a guarantee for immunity against prosecution for war crimes.

On 18 March 2003, on the eve of the war, Mr. Bush posed yet another an ultimatum to the Iraqi dictator: Saddam would have had 48 hours to leave the country or face the consequences. With this statement, President Bush put Saddam in the situation described on 22 February in Crawford: Saddam had no guarantee that his life would be saved, quite the contrary. During those very hours, U.S. public opinion learned the results of a survey conducted on 25 January, which had been withheld from the public until then: the majority of Americans (62%) were in favor of the exile for Saddam on the condition that, leaving the power, the war be avoided. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey elaborated an exile "Plan". Important commentators such as Thomas Friedman ("New York Times" 29 January 2003) suggested a "third option"; even the Arab press (Memri Report of 18 February 2003) underlined more than once the possibility of Saddam's resignation. In those days, Bahrain offered Saddam "a secure exile, provided that a new war in the Gulf territories be avoided". Mr. Bush decided otherwise and the war started.