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.
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“The inquiry is feeding into current public preconceptions about the government by reminding people how there really was not adequate planning for the war and its aftermath, exposing misjudgements and portraying ministers as not being in the loop,” Curtice says.Skip to next paragraph
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A survey for Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper earlier this month showed that 52 percent of Britons believe Blair deliberately misled the country over the war. Almost 1 in 4 (23 percent) think he should be tried as a war criminal. Such opposition to the war is credited with depriving the Labour Party of large numbers of voters during the 2005 general election, which saw the party's overall majority sharply reduced.
Blair: 'We thought [Hussein] was a risk'
Although the inquiry is not the trial that his most ardent critics desire, and there is little faith in the ability of its examining panel to conduct a rigorous forensic examination, Blair appeared periodically nervous under close questioning.
Leaning forward in his chair and adopting a somber expression, he appeared eager to press home points while members of the inquiry panel pressed him to answer key questions such as what he discussed with President George W. Bush during an April 2002 meeting in Crawford, Texas.
But Blair said there had been no "covert" deal with Bush to go to war when they met at the president's Texas ranch – 11 months before the invasion.
"The position was not a covert position, it was an open position," he said, insisting that he always been open that Hussein had to be confronted over his weapons program.
"Up to Sept. 11, we thought [Hussein] was a risk, but we thought it was worth trying to contain it,” said Blair, who has held lucrative corporate posts and served as a middle-east peace envoy since stepping down as prime minister.
During questioning Friday, he sought to play down his comments in a December interview with a BBC television presenter, in which he said he would have thought it right to remove Saddam Hussein even if he had known that he did not have WMD.
Blair suggests military action to stop Iranian weapons program
Blair also appeared to suggest at one point that military action might be necessary to stop Iran developing its weapons programs, saying that Tehran's actions have made him even more worried today that a rogue state could supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorists than he was when he took Britain to war with Iraq.
"My judgment – and it may be other people don't take this view, and that's for the leaders of today to make their judgment – is we don't take any risks with this issue," he said.
"My fear was – and I would say I hold this fear stronger today than I did back then as a result of what Iran particularly today is doing – my fear is that states that are highly repressive or failed, the danger of a WMD link is that they become porous, they construct all sorts of different alliances with people."
Earlier this month, Blair's former communications director and chief spin-doctor, Alastair Campbell, denied that he “sexed up” a 2002 intelligence document claiming Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes in order to exaggerate the case for war.