Blair to make anticipated appearance before public inquiry on Iraq war
Former PM Tony Blair, who led Britain into war in Iraq in 2003, will make a much anticipated appearance before a public inquiry into the conflict on Jan. 29.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who led Britain into war in Iraq in 2003, will make a much anticipated appearance before a public inquiry into the conflict on Jan. 29.
Blair was premier when Britain sent 45,000 troops as part of the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein seven years ago, despite mass protests on the streets of London.
It was one of his Labour government's most unpopular decisions, with widespread doubts raised about its legality. Critics also accuse Blair of misleading the public over claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
The inquiry announced the date of Blair's appearance on its website on Monday. It also released a foreign office note detailing the outcome of a meeting between Blair and former U.S. President George W. Bush in Texas in April 2002, 11 months before the war.
"The Prime Minister came away convinced that President Bush would act in a calm, measured and sensible but firm way. There was no question of precipitate action," it said.
Blair's critics accuse him of committing to joining Bush in military action while diplomatic efforts to disarm Saddam were still under way. Jonathan Powell, Blair's former chief-of-staff, told the inquiry on Monday that the prime minister had not given a firm indication in Texas that Britain would go to war.
Such is the demand to see Blair's testimony, the inquiry will hold a ballot to allocate public seats. A third of the 60 or so available spaces will be reserved for families of soldiers who died following the 2003 invasion.
Many Labour supporters remain angry with Blair for leading the country into a war and occupation in which 179 British soldiers were killed. Discontent was heightened when no WMDs were found.
Blair's successor Gordon Brown, who was finance minister at the time of the war, is not due to appear at the inquiry until after parliamentary elections which must be held by June.
Brown set up the inquiry last year following the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. Some Labour figures fear that it will damage the party in the election because it brings a divisive issue back into the public arena.
The five-person inquiry team, which is examining Britain's role before, during and after the conflict, can decide when to call witnesses, though it is not a trial.
Headed by former civil servant Sir John Chilcot, its stated aim is to learn lessons from Britain's involvement in the war.
Blair, who will spend an entire day answering questions, told a BBC interview last month that he believed it would still have been right to oust Saddam even if he had known Iraq had no WMDs despite thousands of civilian deads.
Last week, Blair's former communications chief Alastair Campbell told the inquiry that the prime minister had assured Bush in 2002 Britain would back military action if diplomatic efforts to disarm Saddam failed.
Reuters Last Mod: 19 Ocak 2010, 08:05