News24

Jack Straw defends Iraq war

2010-01-21 19:11

London - Former foreign minister Jack Straw said on Thursday he deeply regretted the loss of life in Iraq but defended his decision to back the US led invasion in 2003.

Straw, who is now justice secretary, served as foreign minister under former prime minister Tony Blair between 2001-2006.

"I believed at the time, and I still believe, that we made the best judgements we could have done in the circumstances," Straw, wrote in a submission to a public inquiry into the conflict.

"We did so assiduously and on the best evidence we had available at the time," added Straw in a lengthy statement issued before he appeared before the five-person inquiry on Thursday.

Straw described the decision to go to war in the face of mass public protests as one of the most divisive of his political lifetime.

He conceded that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein had undermined trust.

Regret

"Above all, there has been the grave loss of life - of our military personnel and civilians, others in the coalition, and many thousands of Iraqis. I deeply regret this."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown set up the Iraq inquiry, chaired by former civil servant John Chilcot, last year to learn lessons from the conflict following the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

Some Labour figures say it risks backfiring by bringing a divisive issue back into the public arena ahead of an election to be held by June and which the Conservatives are expected to win.

Brown was chancellor under Blair and has faced criticisms for decisions on defence spending which critics say have hampered British operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is not expected to appear before the inquiry until after the election.

Many Labour supporters remain angry with Blair for supporting former US president George W Bush and leading the country into a war and occupation in which 179 British soldiers were killed.

Blair will appear before the inquiry on January 29.

Blair's former spokesperson Alastair Campbell, who appeared before the tribunal last week, wrote on Thursday that he feared that the wrong lessons had been learnt from the Iraq war, bemoaning a failure to explain the purpose of the conflict in Afghanistan.