Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his decision to join a now-seven years bloody invasion into Iraq while admitting Saddam Hussein didn't become a bigger threat after Sept. 11.
The U.S. favored regime change as a reason while Britain said it was Saddam Hussein's aims for WMDs, or weapons of mass destruction, Blair said.
"The Americans, in a sense, were saying, 'We're for regime change 'cause we don't trust he's ever going to give up his WMD ambitions,'" Blair said.
"We were saying, 'We have to deal with his WMD ambitions. If that means regime change, so be it.'"
Blair told Britain's Iraq Inquiry that his contentious decision to back the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was inspired by fears of another.
"It wasn't that objectively he (Saddam) had done more, it was that our perception of the risk had shifted," Blair said. "If those people inspired by this religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000, they would have. From that moment Iran, Libya, North Korea, Iraq ... all of this had to be brought to an end.
"The primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful, clear and unremitting message that after Sept. 11 if you were a regime engaged in WMD (weapons of mass destruction), you had to stop."
Protesters chanting "Tony Blair, war criminal" gathered outside the London inquiry into the Iraq War on Friday. Blair had arrived shortly before 0700GMT (0200EST) Friday, dodging demonstrators by entering the conference center through a cordoned-off rear entrance.
Blair was appearing before an inquiry into Britain's role in the invasion, to which he sent 45,000 troops. It was the most controversial episode of his 10-year premiership, provoking huge protests, divisions within his Labour Party and reports he had deceived the public about the justification for invasion.
"The crucial thing after September 11 is that the calculus of risk changed," Blair said.
"The point about this act in New York was that had they been able to kill even more people than those 3,000, they would have. And so after that time, my view was you could not take risks with this issue at all.
Britain and the United States justified the invasion of Iraq with the threat posed by its possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in defiance of United Nations resolutions, but they did not have explicit UN approval. In the end, US or UK never found such weapons in Iraq.
Former top civil servant John Chilcot, who led the inquiry panel, reiterated that his committee intended to identify the lessons to be learned from the conflict, but was not a court, adding: "The inquiry is not a trial."
He said Friday's session would focus on the run-up to the US-led invasion in 2003, the chaotic immediate aftermath of the war and the subsequent surge in violence.
Relatives of some of the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq joined about 100 anti-war demonstrators chanting and waving placards. Names of those killed were also read out.
Blair, who looked nervous at times as the hearing began, arrived early and entered by a back door amid heavy security and large numbers of police on standby.
"The real question Tony Blair needs to answer in the end will be at The Hague and before a war crimes tribunal," said Andrew Murray, chairman of Stop the War Coalition.
"He is an accomplished actor but I think most people have long since seen through the script."
"Signed in blood"
Witnesses have suggested Blair gave that assurance in 2002 although then-Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, the government's top lawyer who eventually gave the invasion the green light, had warned him that using force for regime change would be illegal.
Goldsmith told the inquiry he originally believed the United Nations had to approve the use of force and only changed his mind a month before the invasion.
The two top lawyers at the time at the Foreign Office have also said they had told the government the war would be unlawful.
One of the key documents in the intelligence case against Saddam was a September 2002 dossier in which Blair wrote, in a foreword, that Saddam's possession of WMD was "beyond doubt" and he could deploy them within 45 minutes.
Britain's former ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, told the inquiry in November that it was possible a deal was "signed in blood" between Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush at a meeting in Texas almost a year before the 2003 invasion.