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Blair's spin doctor defends decision to enter Iraq war

Alastair Campbell, ex-spin doctor to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, appeared before the Chilcot inquiry committee into the Iraq war Tuesday, defending the decision of his former boss to go to war and saying there was "never a precipitate rush".


AFP - Tony Blair's ex-chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell insisted Tuesday the former British premier was determined to deal with Saddam Hussein's regime peacefully until just before the 2003 Iraq war.

At a public inquiry on the conflict, Campbell, one of the ex-prime minister's closest allies, said Blair wanted to pursue a diplomatic route right up to a crucial vote on the Iraq war in the House of Commons on March 18, 2003.

"He's not doing this because George Bush wants him to do it, this was his genuine belief that Iraq had to be confronted over its continued defiance of the UN," Campbell said.

"That's his position and that's a policy that he pursued the whole way through, right to the House of Commons vote... Right to that point, the prime minister was hopeful this thing could be resolved peacefully."

He added: "I think the prime minister was all the way through trying to get it resolved without a single shot being fired".


US-led forces, strongly supported by Britain, began their invasion of Iraq two days after the House of Commons vote, despite the lack of explicit backing from the UN Security Council.

Campbell is the first big name witness to appear before the Chilcot inquiry to face questions about the intelligence Britain used to make the case for war.

After arriving amid a scrum of photographers, Campbell also told how current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, then finance minister, would "absolutely" have been one of the "key ministers" Blair discussed decisions on Iraq with.

Blair is due to appear in late January or early February, while Brown will not be called until after this year's general election, which is expected to be held in May.

Campbell, Downing Street's former director of communications and strategy, resigned in August 2003, the month after Ministry of Defence weapons expert Dr. David Kelly was found dead near his home with slashed wrists.

Earlier that year, he fiercely denied a BBC report that he "sexed up" a dossier claiming Iraq could launch a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes to help justify the war.

Kelly believed he may have been the source of the BBC's story and officials confirmed his name as such to some reporters.

Campbell insisted he had decided to resign to spend more time with his family well before Kelly's death.

An official inquiry  -- one of a number of probes to which he has already given evidence over the Iraq war -- subsequently exonerated him over the affair.

Campbell has kept a relatively low profile since leaving Downing Street, publishing his memoirs and a novel. He is also advising Brown's ruling Labour party informally ahead of the election.

Blair faced a major backlash in Britain over the decision to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with then US president George W. Bush over the war. He resigned in 2007 despite having led his Labour party to three election wins.

The Iraq inquiry, led by retired top civil servant John Chilcot, has faced claims from some critics that it is not questioning witnesses rigorously enough.

But Chilcot hit back last month, insisting it was "not here to provide public sport or entertainment" but "to get to the facts."

The Daily Mail newspaper said in an editorial Tuesday that Campbell, who worked for Blair for nine years, "must face the toughest possible grilling" over how Britain became involved in the Iraq war.

"Only when we have all the facts can we begin to ensure it never happens again," it added.


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