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Jan 29th, 2010

At Inquiry, Unrepentant Blair Defends Iraq War

WMDs were ‘the absolutely key issue’ for joining U.S.-led invasion, he says

Image: Tony Blair
Former British prime minister Tony Blair is seen addressing the Iraq Inquiry in central London on Friday, Jan. 29, 2010. (Photo credit: UKBP via Reuters TV)

Jan. 29, 2010

LONDON — An unrepentant Tony Blair defended his decision to join the United States in attacking Iraq, arguing Friday before a panel investigating the war that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made the threat of weapons of mass destruction impossible to ignore.

The former British Prime Minister said that before Sept. 11 he thought “Saddam was a menace, that he was a threat, he was a monster, but we would have to try and make best.”

The attacks on New York and Washington changed everything, he said.

“After that time, my view was you could not take risks with this issue at all,” he said.

This is Britain’s third and widest-ranging investigation of the conflict, which triggered huge protests and left 179 British troops dead. The British military withdrew from Iraq last year.

It is not intended to apportion blame or hold anyone liable for the conflict. But it could embarrass American and British officials who argued — wrongly — the war was justified because Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction and building ties with al-Qaida.

Emotions run high

Blair appeared somber as he began his scheduled six hours of testimony. He grew feistier as the day went on, gesturing, smiling and, at times, correcting what he saw as the flawed questions of panel members. The audience in the hearing room included family members of soldiers and civilians killed or missing in Iraq — all of whom sat quietly as he testified.

Emotions ran higher outside, where demonstrators chanted and read the names of civilians and military personnel killed. Some 150 protesters shouted “Jail Tony” and “Blair lied — thousands died,” as police officers looked on.


Tony Blair says he has no regrets over Iraq war (MSNBC, Jan. 29, 2010) — Tony Blair appeared before a public inquiry seeking to learn lessons from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. (03:17)

The five-member panel pressed Blair on when exactly he offered U.S. President George W. Bush support for an invasion. Earlier witnesses claimed he promised it in 2002, more than a year before Britain’s Parliament approved military action.

Former British ambassador to Washington Christopher Meyer told an earlier hearing that an agreement had been “signed in blood” by Bush and Blair during a meeting at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.

“The only commitment I gave — and I gave this very openly at the time — was a commitment to deal with Saddam,” Blair said. He said military options were discussed, but said he told Bush that Britain wanted to exhaust diplomatic routes before an invasion was considered.

‘No other way of dealing with this threat’

Blair said he had not been determined from the outset to remove Saddam Hussein.

“The absolutely key issue was the WMD issue,” not regime change. But he added that “if necessary — and there was no other way of dealing with this threat — we were going to remove him.”

Blair said other world leaders did not share his and Bush’s enthusiasm for confronting the WMD threat, even after the Sept 11 attacks.

“Although the American mindset had changed dramatically — and frankly mine had as well — when I talked to other leaders, particularly in Europe, I didn’t get the same impression.”

Blair acknowledged that the decision to join the war — which led to the largest public protests in a generation in London — had met with opposition in the country, and in his own Cabinet. …

“Blair should not be here giving his excuses for the illegal war, he should be taken to The Hague to face criminal charges because he has committed crimes against the Iraqi people,” said protester Saba Jaiwad, an Iraqi who opposed the war. …


Blair defends Iraq war decision (MSNBC, Jan. 29, 2010) — Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the British Ambassador to the U.S., discusses former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s appearance before the Iraq Inquiry in London. (06:06)


3/5/10 Update

British PM: Invading Iraq was ‘Right Decision’

Image: Gordon Brown
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was heckled by protesters as he arrived to testify at an inquiry examining the Iraq war. (Photo credit: EPA)

March 5, 2010

LONDON — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown defended the decision to invade Iraq, saying Friday before an inquiry on the war that deposing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.

In testimony before a looming national election, Brown praised the sacrifice of those who died and immediately addressed a critical question: Did he agree with Britain’s choice of going to war?

“It was the right decision and it was for the right reasons,” he said.

Brown, who served as Treasury chief from 1997 to 2007 and approved military spending, planned to give around four hours of evidence to the five-person panel.

The inquiry on mistakes made in the war is Britain’s third and widest-ranging examination of the conflict, which triggered huge protests and left 179 British troops dead before the country’s forces withdrew from Iraq last year. …

Earlier this year, Prime Minster Tony Blair also stood by the decision to back the U.S. in removing Saddam because the Iraqi dictator was a threat to his region and the world.

Brown was heckled by a handful of protesters as he arrived for the hearing, entering through the center’s front door.

“Gordon Brown was the paymaster for this most unpopular of wars and was the second most powerful man in the government,” said John Rees, co-founder of the Stop The War Coalition. …


In hot seat (NBC Nightly News, March 5, 2010) — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Friday strongly defended his record. ITN’s Lucy Manning reports. (02:35)

Hearings in the inquiry began in November and have seen Blair, MI6 intelligence agency chief John Sawers, the head of Britain’s military Jock Stirrup and a host of ministers and government officials offer testimony.

Brown commissioned the inquiry last year to address concerns over the case made for war, and to scrutinize mistakes made over post-conflict security and reconstruction. …

John Chilcot, head of the inquiry, has said he will seek meetings with former members of the Bush administration in the next few months.

The panel will offer recommendations by the end of the year, but won’t apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability.


1/21/11 Update

Iraq War Inquiry Steps Up Grilling of U.K.’s Blair

Image: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair testifies
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at an inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq War, in central London Friday, Jan. 21, 2011. (Photo credit: Parbul TV via Reuters)

The Associated Press and Reuters via
Jan. 21, 2011

LONDON — A full year before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair told his chief of staff the West should be “gung-ho” on toppling Saddam Hussein, a panel looking into the conflict disclosed Friday.

Blair returned to testify for a second time before a five-member panel scrutinizing Britain’s role in the unpopular war — having been recalled after witnesses raised doubts about sections of his testimony at an initial appearance a year ago.

The timing of the decision for military action is an important issue for opponents of the war, who accuse Blair and Bush of being set on invasion regardless of its legality or whether it had backing from the United Nations.

Blair, who sent 45,000 British troops as part of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, repeated his message from his first appearance that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks had changed the calculus of risk, meaning they had to deal with Saddam as he posed a threat to the world and was refusing to comply with the United Nations. …

As Blair was questioned, the panel released a series of letters and documents detailing the intense discussions inside the British government over how to respond to the perceived threat posed by Saddam.

In a letter to his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, on March 17, 2002, Blair said “the case should be obvious” for removing the Iraqi leader from power.

Nations that opposed dictatorships and that had supported action in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone “should be gung-ho on Saddam,” Blair wrote.

But he acknowledged it would be difficult to convince skeptics of the need for action, and acknowledged that Iraq’s weapons program didn’t “seem obviously worse than 3 years ago.” …

Blair’s administration has been repeatedly criticized for allegedly overstating the case for war and misrepresenting intelligence to increase public support for the conflict.

Another released document, a note prepared in December 2001 by a second senior adviser, warned Blair that the legal case for military action would be “threadbare.” Other documents showed that as late as January 2003, officials were still scrambling for legal grounds to justify the war.

In his testimony, Blair repeated his view that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States meant that nations needed to deal with — not just contain — potential aggressors. …

Blair said some leaders, including then-French President Jacques Chirac, believed the threat of terrorism could be managed without major conflict. …

“The other view, which is my view, is that this thing is deep, its potential to wreak enormous and devastating damage is huge, and we have to confront it,” Blair told the panel. …

Blair, prime minister between 1997 and 2007, faced sharper questioning than in his initial appearance before the panel, when he made an impassioned defense of his decisions, and urged current national leaders to deal promptly with Iran’s nuclear program.

When Blair arrived at the inquiry venue, he was greeted by a small group of anti-war demonstrators who raised banners and chanted “Tony Blair, terrorist,” in an echo of massive protests in the buildup to the conflict almost eight years ago.

Much evidence heard since hearings began in November 2009 has focused on accusations that Blair offered Bush support for an invasion as early as April 2002, a year before legislators approved Britain’s involvement.


Protesters, police clash at Tony Blair book tour (MSNBC, Sept. 4, 2010) — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was met with protestors throwing shoes and eggs at him while on a book tour promoting his best-selling memoir. Time magazine’s Michael Elliott talks with msnbc’s Alex Witt about the behind-the-scenes look at Blair’s relationship with U.S. Presidents. (05:32)


Related reports on this site

Bush-Cheney ‘Hell Bent’ on War (Nov. 27, 2009)

Anti-war protesters from the Stop the War group wear masks depicting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, right, former President George W. Bush, center, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left. They posed for photographers Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 outside the conference center where the Iraq war inquiry is taking place in central London. (Photo credit: Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

Iraq War Plan Soon After 9/11 (Nov. 22, 2009)

Protesters hold placards with the words ‘No Cover Up’ and ‘No More Lies’ as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, June 15, 2009. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced an independent inquiry into the Iraq war Monday, six years after his predecessor Tony Blair controversially backed the U.S.-led invasion. Brown said the probe would not “apportion blame” but simply seek to learn lessons to “strengthen the health of our democracy,” while praising the role of British forces in Iraq. But David Cameron, leader of the main opposition Conservatives who are tipped to win the next general election, accused him of deliberately delaying its publication until after the poll to avoid any “inconvenient conclusions.”  (Photo credit: Shaun Curry / AFP — Getty Images)

Britain Orders Iraq War Inquiry (June 15, 2009)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 29, 2009

Kevin Lucey, seen here in 2007, says his ex-Marine son, who killed himself, didn't get the treatment he needed.
Kevin Lucey, seen here in 2007, says his ex-Marine son, who killed himself, didn’t get the treatment he needed. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Military Suicides Continue to Rise

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that suicide rates among active-duty U.S. military personnel continuing to rise even as the Defense Department dedicated more resources to identifying troubled service members and getting them the help they need. Preliminary figures confirmed at least 125 soldiers killed themselves in 2008, compared with 115 in 2007, 102 in 2006 and 87 in 2005.

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