Blair set for second grilling on Iraq War


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

Blair, who sent 45 000 British troops to join the US-led invasion in 2003, told the inquiry in his first appearance that Saddam Hussein was 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, Reuters reports.

The inquiry, which began in November 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 inquiry 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.

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 that 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, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith.

However, since his appearance, other witnesses have offered evidence which appeared to conflict with some details he gave.

Former International Development Secretary Clare Short, a long-time critic of Blair, said he had lied to senior ministers and stifled discussion on the issue before the invasion.

She also said they had been kept in the dark about Goldsmith’s doubts about the war’s legality. Goldsmith told the inquiry he only concluded it would be lawful without a specific U.N. resolution a week before the war.

In a written statement to the inquiry issued this week, Goldsmith also said comments made by Blair to parliament and to BBC TV a month before the invasion were not compatible with the advice he had given the prime minister.
“As we begin to write our report, there are a few remaining areas where we need to clarify exactly what happened,” Chilcot said Tuesday. However, he said Britain’s top civil servant had forbidden the publication of notes Blair sent to Bush and records of their discussions.

Alistair Campbell, Blair’s former communications chief and one of his closest advisers until resigning in late 2003, said people still felt raw about the war and would never forgive him.
“He made the decision, he led the country to remove Saddam and he has to live with that,” he told Sky News.

Opponents of the war said they would demonstrate 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 the Stop the War Campaign.