Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair began testifying in front of a special Iraq inquiry about Britain’s involvement in the war on Friday morning. Among the many issues he will be asked to address, Mr. Blair is expected to answer questions about when Britain decided to commit troops to Iraq and whether intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction were embellished to make a case for the war.
Blair has faced much criticism for involving Britain in the unpopular war, and the inquiry is seen by many as a critical moment for not only Blair, but for the entire nation as they try to understand the motivations that led them into the war. The inquiry is Britain’s third major investigation into the Iraq war.
Blair opened the inquiry by saying that, while the threat posed by Saddam Hussein did not increase after 9/11, the “whole calculus of risk” changed. He told the inquiry that the attacks made the threat of terrorism much more daunting to the United States and the United Kingdom, and the two nations had to ensure that terrorist organizations could not acquire weapons of mass destruction, reports the Guardian, which broadcast the hearing live on its website with other major news organizations.
The question of when exactly Blair decided to commit troops to a war in Iraq will also be central to the inquiry. The Daily Telegraph reports that there is much speculation that he could have agreed to go to war in Iraq as early as April 2002, 11 months before the invasion, during a visit with former President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas. If this is true, it could raise other questions about the veracity of intelligence reports that brought the UK into the war.
So far, though, Blair has denied any secret deals with President Bush. Speaking at the inquiry, he said that he had told the former US commander-in-chief that they had to deal with the weapons of mass destruction threat, even if it meant a regime change in Iraq. The BBC reports that Blair insisted that he had always been “open” about his dealings with Bush and their plans for Iraq.
Outside the inquiry, hundreds of protesters gathered with some calling for Blair to be charged with war crimes and others calling him a “coward.” Those hoping for a major revelation about the war, however, are likely to be disappointed, reports Al Jazeera’s London correspondent Alan Fisher.
Meanwhile, the inquiry has also expressed frustration with the British government’s refusal to release a series of top-secret documents about the Iraq war, reports The Times of London. Sir John Chilcot, head of the inquiry, said that the documents are critical so that members of the inquiry can properly question officials about the war. The government must now provide the inquiry with a detailed explanation of its refusal to release the documents.
Christian Science Monitor
Asia Times Online