Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, appearing for the second time before an inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said he did not offer President George W. Bush a “blank check” of support in the run-up to the conflict.
Blair is being questioned in London today about gaps in the evidence he gave the panel a year ago about the conduct of the war and Britain’s part in the conflict, in which the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed from power. Anti-war protesters gathered outside the hearing.
“The objective never changed between April and September 2002,” Blair said in written evidence to the inquiry released as the hearing started. “It remained the same: to bring Saddam back to full and unconditional compliance with United Nations resolutions in respect of which he had been in breach for over a decade.”
The probe, which opened in November 2009 and is led by a retired civil servant, John Chilcot, is the fifth into the war. Blair sent more than 40,000 troops to back the U.S.-led invasion, costing him popularity at home that led to his resignation in 2007. He told the inquiry last year Saddam was “a monster” and he had no regrets about ousting him.
‘With the U.S.’
“It was absolutely clear that we were going to be with the U.S. in implementing this objective,” Blair said in his evidence. “There can have been no one who was in any doubt about my determination on that score. I expressed it publicly. I made it clear also to President Bush that I would be with him in tackling it.”
Blair said that he “could not and did not offer some kind of ‘blank check’ in how we accomplished our shared objective.”
In his oral evidence to the inquiry today, Blair said the U.S. was always going to take action against Iraq.
“The first question is do we want it to be a coalition. It was extremely important for the international community to hold together at this point,” Blair said, recalling his thinking at the time. “They could do it unilaterally but I’d prefer them to do it multilaterally. Whatever the heat, if I thought this was the right thing to do I’m going to be with you. I’m not going to back out just because the going gets tough.”
Blair also said in his written evidence that he disregarded the U.K. Attorney General Peter Goldsmith’s legal advice that attacking Iraq would be illegal without further resolutions from the UN in the run-up to the war because his advice was “provisional.”
Blair said he thought Goldsmith would change his advice on whether a second UN resolution over and above Resolution 1441 was needed once he was “abreast” of all the details.
“Had Peter Goldsmith not finally been of the view when he came to give his formal advice that 1441 did authorize force, then the U.K. could not and would not have participated in the decision to remove Saddam,” Blair wrote.
“We would have had to have withdrawn from the coalition taking action,” Blair said. “This would have been, in my judgment, very damaging to the strategic interests of the country.”
The inquiry also released a note from Blair to Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, shortly before his visit to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, in which he argued that his ruling Labour Party should be “gung-ho” about dealing with Saddam. Blair added that the meeting with Bush at Crawford “did not result in an alteration of policy.”
U.K. combat troops carried out their last patrol in Iraq in April 2009. The conflict claimed the lives of 179 British service personnel.
The committee is expected to publish its report later this year.
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