Blair offers his justification for Iraq war

 A police officer stands in front of a television screen in the foyer of the venue hosting the Iraq Inquiry in London, as Britain's former Prime Minis...

Britain Blair Iraq

A police officer stands in front of a television screen in the foyer of the venue hosting the Iraq Inquiry in London, as Britain's former Prime Minis...

An unrepentant Tony Blair defended his decision to join the United States in attacking Iraq, arguing Friday before a British panel investigating the war that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks made the threat of weapons of mass destruction impossible to ignore.
The former British prime minister said before the 9/11 attacks he thought "Saddam was a menace, that he was a threat, he was a monster, but we would have to try and make the best of it."
But then the 9/11 attacks changed everything, he said.
"After that time, my view was you could not take risks with this issue at all," Blair said.
The 9/11 terror attacks killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Terrorists hijacked four planes, crashing two into New York City's World Trade Towers and bringing them down, and one plane into the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers and flight crew fought the hijackers.
The panel in London is Britain's third and widest-ranging investigation into the Iraq conflict, which triggered huge protests and left 179 British troops dead. The British military withdrew from Iraq last year.
The probe is not intended to apportion blame or hold anyone liable for the war. But it could embarrass American and British officials who argued _ wrongly _ the war was justified because Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction and building ties with al-Qaida.
Blair appeared somber and tense as he began his scheduled six hours of testimony. He grew feistier as the day went on, gesturing, smiling and, at times, correcting what he saw as flawed questions from panel members.
The audience in the hearing room included family members of soldiers and civilians killed or missing in Iraq _ all of whom sat quietly as Blair testified.
Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon was killed in Iraq in 2004, said she felt revulsion at Blair's presence.
"Actually, I felt sick," she said. "He seemed to be shaking as well, which I am pleased about _ the eyes of all the families were on him."
Emotions also ran high outside, where demonstrators chanted and read the names of civilians and military personnel killed. Some 150 protesters shouted "Jail Tony!" and "Blair lied _ thousands died," as police officers looked on.
The five-member panel pressed Blair on when exactly he offered President George W. Bush support for an invasion. Earlier witnesses claimed he promised it in 2002, more than a year before Britain's Parliament approved military action.
The former British ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, told an earlier hearing that an agreement had been "signed in blood" by Bush and Blair during a meeting at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.
"The only commitment I gave _ and I gave this very openly at the time _ was a commitment to deal with Saddam," Blair said Friday. He said military options were discussed, but insisted he told Bush that Britain wanted to exhaust diplomatic routes before an invasion of Iraq was considered.
Blair said after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. and Britain had grown increasingly wary about the threats posed by Libya, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, but other nations didn't share their heightened concern.
"Particularly in Europe, I didn't get the same impression," Blair said.
While he and Bush were seemingly inseparable allies, tensions did surface over Washington's reluctance to take a lead on the Middle East peace process. "I was always disappointed and frustrated on this," Blair said.
While Blair offered little contrition, he conceded that errors were made both before and after the war. He said planners believed postwar challenges would center on humanitarian needs, fallout from the use of chemical weapons and defending Iraq's oil fields. Instead, the occupying powers faced an infrastructure in utter collapse and a bloody sectarian insurgency.
"We planned with one assumption that turned out to be wrong then we also ended up with a fresh problem that I don't think people foresaw," Blair said.
"People did not think that al-Qaida and Iran would play the role that they did," Blair said of the postwar insurgency.
Blair returned often to Iran in his testimony, warning that modern leaders must soon take similar tough choices to those once faced on Iraq to deal with Tehran's nuclear program.
"I hold this fear stronger today than I did back then because of what Iran is doing," Blair told the inquiry. "A large part of the destabilization in the Middle East today comes from Iran."
Blair acknowledged that the decision to join the war _ which led to the largest public protests in a generation in London _ had met with opposition, both in Britain and in his own Cabinet.
"The one thing I found throughout this whole matter from a very early stage is that I was never short of people challenging me on it," Blair told the panel.
The former British leader arrived at the conference center before dawn Friday, dodging demonstrators by entering through a cordoned-off rear entrance.
"Blair should not be here giving his excuses for the illegal war, he should be taken to The Hague to face criminal charges because he has committed crimes against the Iraqi people," said protester Saba Jaiwad, an Iraqi who opposed the war.
Associated Press Writer Gregory Katz contributed to this report

Updated : 2021-03-03 05:14 GMT+08:00