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Tony Blair Iraq inquiry: Hussein was risk worth trying to contain

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is the top witness before Britain’s inquiry into the Iraq war. With the future of his Labour Party on the line, Blair maintained in questioning Friday that Saddam Hussein was a threat in 2003 and that Iran's weapons program is a threat today.

By Correspondent / January 29, 2010

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is seen on television displays at a London department store as he gives evidence to the Iraq Inquiry on Friday.

Akira Suemori/AP



Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair invoked the terror of 9/11 as he defended his support for the invasion of Iraq during an appearance Friday at Britain's inquiry into the war. With his legacy overshadowed by the 2003 intervention, Mr. Blair argued that while the 2001 attacks on the US had not changed the threat from Iraq, they completely shifted his perception of the risk posed from terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

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“The crucial thing after Sept. 11 is that the calculus of risk changed," he said in an inquiry broadcast live on British television and on British news websites. "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.”

As police contained hundreds of protesters calling for Blair to be tried as a war criminal, the former premier arrived two hours early and entered via a back door before his highly anticipated appearance at the government-established investigation.

Blair testimony a political threat to Brown

But while Britain’s involvement in the unpopular war has long been associated with Blair, the inquiry is suddenly emerging as a political threat to his successor, Gordon Brown, by reawakening of public memories of the conflict during an election year.

Mr. Brown's own appearance at the inquiry had originally been put off until after polling day to prevent it from becoming an election issue. But following pressure from opposition politicians, he is to appear as a witness within weeks.

Brown, who voted for the war when he was chancellor of the Exchequer, has never been closely cross-examined about his role in the invasion and the extent to which he may or may not have challenged Blair’s case for it.

He is vulnerable to the charge that he supported the war under false pretenses and that he then failed to provide the armed forces with the funding it needed in preparation.

Geoff Hoon, a Labour MP who served as defense secretary at the time of the war and was behind an attempted leadership coup against Brown earlier this month, told the inquiry Jan. 19 that Brown had forced military planners to cut their budget, depriving British troops of much-needed helicopters.

Labour Party runs risk of warmongering label

“It fits into a longstanding preconception that Brown is not too keen on the Ministry for Defense,” John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said in a telephone interview. “However, we are now in the midst of another foreign adventure, about which the public do not have a great deal of confidence, and which is costing lives.”

“Labour is running the risk of being regarded as the party which gets involved in foreign wars. A second problem is the way that it is no longer regarded as being particularly competent.”