Last Updated: Fri Jan 21, 2011 11:14 am (KSA) 08:14 am (GMT)

UK's Blair set for second grilling on Iraq War

Former British PM Tony Blair before the Iraq inquiry
Former British PM Tony Blair before the Iraq inquiry

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will appear before an inquiry into the Iraq War for a second public grilling on Friday to clarify his earlier evidence detailing his reasons for joining the invasion.

Blair, who sent 45,000 British troops as part of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, told the London inquiry in his first appearance that Saddam Hussein had been a threat to the world who had to be removed or disarmed.

He also said he had no regrets about the military action, a comment that angered some of the relatives of the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq.

Advice on a UN resolution

 In retrospect I would have had him alongside the negotiating team and it would have been better if he had been speaking with the American lawyers back in November 2002 

Around 30 protesters holding up signs saying "Bliar" rallied outside the London conference center where the inquiry is being held as the ex-premier arrived amid heavy security and a large police presence.

Dressed in a dark suit and appearing confident, Blair admitted that he should have kept the government's top legal adviser, attorney general Peter Goldsmith, better in the loop over efforts to secure a U.N. resolution.

"In retrospect I would have had him alongside the negotiating team and it would have been better if he had been speaking with the American lawyers back in November 2002," Blair told the inquiry.

In a written statement to the inquiry, Blair said he received advice from Goldsmith on January 14 and January 30, 2003 suggesting a further U.N. resolution was needed for military action to be legal.

But he insisted this was "provisional" and noted that Goldsmith later changed his mind, adding that if he had not, "then the UK could not and would not have participated in the decision to remove Saddam (Hussein)".

Documents released ahead of the resumption of public proceedings, following a six-month break, showed Goldsmith criticised Blair for publicly suggesting Britain could invade without further U.N. backing, despite his advice to the contrary.

Blair meanwhile said he had given U.S. President George W. Bush a "strong commitment" in January 2003 that Britain would do "what it took" to disarm Saddam, despite the legal concerns.

He told the inquiry that the Bush administration was already set on a policy of regime change in Iraq by the time the two leaders met at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas in April 2002.

"It was obviously going to be on the agenda. I was always going to make it clear, I did make it clear, we would be shoulder to shoulder with America," he told the inquiry.

He also said that al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States were the turning point.

"Up to September 11 we had been managing the issue, after September 11 we decided we had to confront and change," Blair said.

 Some people who actually really liked Tony Blair when he became prime minister ... they will never forgive him for Iraq 
Alistair Campbell, Blair\'s former communications chief

Alistair Campbell, Blair's former communications chief and one of his closest advisers until he resigned in late 2003, said people still felt raw about the war.

"Some people who actually really liked Tony Blair when he became prime minister ... they will never forgive him for Iraq," he told Sky News.

The decision to go to war was one of the most controversial episodes of Blair's 10-year premiership which ended in 2007, leading to massive protests and accusations he had deliberately misled the public over the reasons for the invasion.

Blair denied such claims and rejected suggestions he had promised U.S. President George W. Bush he would support military action in 2002, months before attempts to secure explicit U.N. backing had foundered.

He also said the war was legal based on advice he had been given from the government's then top lawyer.

Cabinet “were lied to”

 Evidence has now emerged at Chilcot showing Blair lied to public and parliament about the legality of an attack on Iraq 
Chris Nineham from Stop the War Campaign

The inquiry, which began in Nov. 2009 and is headed by former civil servant John Chilcot, was set up by Blair's successor Gordon Brown to learn lessons from the conflict and is not designed to assign guilt or blame to any individual.

Blair's six-hour appearance in January last year has been the highlight of the probe which has heard from a host of senior military and political figures from Britain and abroad. He is one of a small number of witnesses to have been recalled.

Other witnesses have offered evidence which appeared to conflict with some details Blair gave, and one former minister said he had lied to his cabinet before the invasion.

"As we begin to write our report, there are a few remaining areas where we need to clarify exactly what happened," committee chairman John Chilcot said on Tuesday.

Hostility over Iraq continues to dog Blair, 57, now an envoy for the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers -- the United States, Russia, the EU and the United Nations.

Opponents of the war said they would be demonstrating outside the inquiry's venue near parliament in central London.

"Evidence has now emerged at Chilcot showing Blair lied to public and parliament about the legality of an attack on Iraq," said Chris Nineham from Stop the War Campaign.

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