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Latest update : 2010-03-05

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Britain's public inquiry into the Iraq war on Friday that supporting the 2003 US-led invasion was "the right decision". The families of dead soldiers are demanding to know why troops were not equipped sufficiently.

AFP - Britain's backing for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq was "the right decision," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Friday as he fought off critics.

Facing questions about his role in funding the war as finance minister under Tony Blair, Brown said Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had flouted international law for years.

"It was the right decision and it was for the right reasons," Brown said in opening comments to the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain's role in the conflict.

"This is the gravest decision of all to make," he said, but added: "Fourteen resolutions were passed by the United Nations, and at the end of the day it was impossible to persuade him that he should abide by international law."

Witnesses to the inquiry, including the defence minister at the time of the invasion, Geoff Hoon, have said the military lacked sufficient funding and equipment for years before the war.

Adding to the pressure, a former chief of the defence staff has alleged British soldiers' lives were lost in Iraq and Afghanistan because Brown turned down pleas for better equipment.

General Charles Guthrie, who led the armed forces from 1997 to 2001, told Friday's edition of The Times: "Not fully funding the army in the way they had asked... undoubtedly cost the lives of soldiers.

"He should be asked why he was so unsympathetic towards defence and so sympathetic to other departments."

The families of soldiers killed in combat have already demanded to know why the government did not equip troops with more helicopters and more robust vehicles which could resist roadside bombs.

As Brown was grilled, a small group of protestors outside the hearing brandished a blood-soaked cheque for 8.5 billion pounds (12.8 billion dollars, 9.4 billion euros), the amount critics say has been spent on Iraq.

"I think he is politically as responsible as Tony Blair for the war, as he had the possibility of stopping it," said Andrew Burgin, spokesman for the Stop the War lobby group.

Labour lawmaker Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time critic of the war, condemned the waste of money. "This could have... built many hospitals. It could have built many schools.

"But what has it done? Killed and destroyed, hurt and maimed," he said.

Brown arrived by the front entrance of the London conference centre where the Iraq inquiry is being held -- in contrast to Blair who was taken in through a back door when he answered questions on January 29.

Blair robustly defended his reasons for going to war when he gave evidence, but Brown -- his principal and often bitter rival within the Labour Party -- has until now kept mostly silent about his role.

Jocelyn Cockburn, a lawyer for relatives of soldiers killed in lightly armoured Snatch Land Rovers in Iraq, said in Thursday's edition of The Times that she was urging the inquiry to challenge Brown over funding concerns.

The use of the Snatch vehicles has been the focus of growing anger in Britain because of their apparent inability to withstand so-called improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brown has insisted that spending on defence is sufficient, but his appearance before the inquiry is fraught with risk ahead of a general election widely expected to take place in May.

Any fresh revelations linking him to the divisive Iraq conflict -- seen by many as a black mark on Labour's 13 years in power -- could be highly damaging.

The British military lost 179 soldiers in the Iraq campaign and is currently engaged in fierce fighting in Afghanistan, where casualties since 2001 are edging up to 270.


Date created : 2010-03-05


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