No covert deal with US to invade Iraq, Blair insists
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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair Friday insisted that there had been no secret deal with the US to invade Iraq in 2003 and robustly defended his decision to take Britain to war at the public inquiry into the Iraq war.
In a much-anticipated appearance, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the public inquiry into the Iraq war in London that he had backed the war because Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had flouted UN resolutions, not because he wanted "regime change".
He was asked whether he had pledged Britain's support for war during a private April 2002 meeting with George W. Bush at the US president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Blair denied this, saying he had told Bush: "We are going to be with you in confronting and dealing with this threat," referring to Saddam's suspected programme of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
"How we did that was an open question, and even at that stage I was raising the issue of going to the UN," he said.
Almost seven years on, six months after British troops withdrew from Iraq, Blair's decision to back the war, which claimed the lives of 179 British servicemen, remains a highly controversial subject in the UK.
Blair’s appearance at the inquiry, which has cross examined political and intelligence figures involved in the planning for the 2003 invasion, has been highly anticipated in Britain.
Anti-war demonstrators were out in force outside the inquiry, demanding Blair be held to account.
45-minute WMD claim should have been “corrected”
Blair told the inquiry that he and many others genuinely believed Iraq had WMD, a central plank of his arguments justifying military action.
He said that after the September 11, 2001 attacks, he could not risk the possibility Saddam would pass such weapons to terror groups.
"Up to September 11 we thought he was a risk, but we thought it was worth trying to contain it. The crucial thing after September 11 is that the calculus of risk changed," he said.
Blair admitted that a key British government dossier of intelligence about Iraqi WMD in September 2002, which helped make the case for war, could have been clearer.
He said the central claim Saddam could launch WMD within 45 minutes should have been "corrected".
No significant WMDs were ever found in the country after the invasion.
Families of dead soldiers sceptical and angry
Groups representing the families of the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq say Blair had turned down their request for a face-to-face meeting to coincide with his appearance before the public inquiry.
Karen Thornton, 47, whose son Lee died in Iraq in 2006, told AFP she said she was "very angry" to see Blair, who has kept a relatively low profile in Britain since stepping down as prime minister in 2007, back in the public eye.
"It's a whitewash. 9/11 has got nothing to do with us," she said, referring to Blair's comments that his views on the need to tackle Saddam Hussein toughened after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
"He's just got this smug look on his face. At the end of the day, all the families want is the truth," Thornton added. She added that was sceptical of getting it.
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