29/01/2010

Blair Faces Iraq Inquiry

Tony Blair put forward his evidence to the Iraq Inquiry in London today.

The former prime minister defended the decisions he made in the run up to the conflict, which deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair was quizzed by the panel, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, for around six hours.

He denied agreeing to a "covert" deal with President George W Bush a year before the invasion.

Questioning centred on the controversial dossier that led the UK into war in 2003, which relied heavily on Iraq's alleged nuclear capabilities.

It was later discovered the country had no weapons of mass destruction.

When asked about the claim Iraq could launch deadly missiles within 45-minutes, Mr Blair said "it would have been better" if headlines about it had been corrected.

He entered the central London venue 90 minutes before he was due to give evidence this morning, using a secret entrance.

Around 200 protesters had gathered outside to jeer the former Labour leader.

He said America would have "provided a way out" if the UK had decided not to back the war.

"I took the view very strongly then - and do now - that it was right for us to be with America, since we believed in this too."
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He told the panel: "This isn't about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception.

"It's a decision. And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam's history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking UN resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programmes or is that a risk that it would be irresponsible to take?"

Referring to allegations over a 2002 discussion with Mr Bush at the Crawford ranch in the wake of the 9/11 New York attacks in 2001, Mr Blair said: "What I was saying - I was not saying this privately incidentally, I was saying it in public - was 'we are going to be with you in confronting and dealing with this threat'."

Mr Blair denied he would have backed the invasion of Iraq if he had believed Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction

He told the inquiry that "you would not describe the nature of the threat in the same way if you knew then what you knew now, that the intelligence on WMD had been shown to be wrong".

He added: "I never regarded 11 September as an attack on America, I regarded it as an attack on us."

(PR/BMcC/GK)

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