Blair has no regrets for removing Saddam

2010-01-30 09:32

FORMER British prime minister Tony Blair said on Friday he had no

regrets about removing Saddam Hussein after delivering a robust defence of the

2003 invasion of Iraq at a public inquiry into the war.

Rounding off his day-long evidence session, Blair said he accepted

“responsibility but not a regret for removing Saddam,” insisting the Iraqi

leader was a “monster” who had “threatened not just the region but the world”.

As he left the London hearing, there were shouts of “liar” and

“you’re a murderer” from the public gallery, where some of the relatives of the

179 British troops killed in Iraq watched his appearance.

In earlier testimony, Blair denied striking a “covert” deal with

then US president George W Bush over the war, but said he had been convinced

Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and had to be tackled.

“The decision I took – and frankly would take again – was if there

was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction, we should

stop him,” he said.

Almost seven years after the invasion and six months after British

troops left Iraq, Blair’s decision to go to war remains highly controversial,

and hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the inquiry venue.

Inside, sitting before the panel in a navy blue suit and red tie,

Blair gave a typically assured account of his conduct, defending the

intelligence that made the case for war and insisting Iraq was a better place

without Saddam.

He was asked whether he had pledged Britain’s support for war

during an April 2002 meeting with Bush at the president’s ranch in Crawford,

Texas – 11 months before the British parliament voted for military action.

Blair denied this, saying he had told Bush “we are going to be with

you in confronting and dealing with this threat” of Iraqi WMD.

He added: “How we did that was an open question, and even at that

stage I was raising the issue of going to the UN.”

Blair admitted he and Bush had discussed the military option but

only if the UN route failed, adding this was not a “covert position.”

Britain needed to be involved because it was potentially threatened

by any proliferation of WMD, and Blair said that if military action was the

right thing to do, he wanted to be “in there right alongside” Washington.

When no WMD were found in Iraq, Britain faced questions about the

intelligence used to make the case for war, including a key September 2002

dossier which claimed Saddam could launch WMD within 45 minutes.

It has since emerged this claim referred to battlefield weapons,

and Blair admitted it should have been “corrected”.

But he insisted Britain and many other nations believed Iraq had

WMD, and that after the September 11, 2001 attacks, he could not risk the

possibility Saddam would pass them on to terror groups.

“The crucial thing after September 11 is that the calculus of risk

changed,” Blair said.

He was asked about a recent TV interview in which he appeared to

say he would have invaded Iraq even if he had known WMD would not be found,

leading some commentators to suggest he was intent on removing Saddam

regardless.

But he insisted: “I didn’t use the words ’regime change’ in that

interview and I didn’t mean in any sense to change the basis (for war).”

The invasion was based on UN Security Council resolution 1441,

which in November 2002 gave Saddam a final deadline to disarm, but former

British government lawyers have said this did not provide a legal basis for

war.

Asked about this, Blair insisted: “I think all countries who took

military action believed they had a sound legal basis for doing so.”

Hundreds of anti-war protesters outside the conference centre where

the inquiry is taking place waved placards saying “Bliar” and chanted “Tony

Blair war criminal”.

Valerie O’Neill, whose son Kris, 27, was killed by a roadside bomb

in Basra in April 2007, was angered by Blair’s evidence and blasted his refusal

to “admit he’s made a mistake”.

Britain’s newspapers on Saturday expressed astonishment at Blair’s

defiant insistence he had no regrets, attacking what they saw as a crude view

that divided the world into simple good and bad.

“He believes the Universe is best understood as an eternal struggle

between the forces of good and evil, in contention for dominance,” said The

Times.

The Guardian accused Blair of living on a “strange planet”, where

“the invasion of Iraq was not a disaster, but a necessary and even heroic act”.


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