Friday, January 29, 2010

Al Jazeera: Tony Blair makes an ass of himself

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, has told an inquiry into the Iraq war that he has "no regrets" about removing Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president, from power.

After facing six hours of questions on Friday, Blair said he felt "responsibility not regret", prompting angry shouts from the public gallery at the conference centre in London where the inquiry is taking place.

"I think he was a monster, I believe he threatened not just the region but the world ... and I do genuinely believe that the world is safer," Blair said.

Blair had earlier said that the pre-war intelligence convinced him it was necessary to stop Saddam Hussein, the then-Iraqi president, from developing weapons of mass destruction.

He told the inquiry that the perception of risk from rogue or failed states changed after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

"When I talked earlier about the calculus of risk changing after September 11 it's really important I think to understand in so far as to understanding the decision I took, and frankly would take again," he said.

WMD capability

Despite the fact weapons of mass destruction were never uncovered by UN inspectors, Blair said he remained convinced that Saddam had the capability.

"He [Saddam] had used them, he definitely had them ... and so in a sense it would have required quite strong evidence the other way to be doubting the fact that he had this programme," Blair said.

"The decision I had to take was, given Saddam's history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he caused, given 10 years of breaking UN resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programme?"

The inquiry is Britain's third major investigation into the conflict. It was set up last year by Gordon Brown, who took over from Blair as the UK's prime minister, to learn lessons from the conflict.

Vincent Moss, the political editor of the Sunday Mirror newspaper, told Al Jazeera the inquiry could have been tougher on Blair, whose decision to send 45,000 troops to Iraq sparked protests in Britain and around the world.

"A lot of ground wasn't covered, and in my mind it wasn't covered in enough detail, particularly the dodgy dossier in September 2002.

"There wasn't very much interrogation on that, they pretty much accepted what Tony Blair said about the intelligence. We could have had an awful lot stronger questioning on that," he said.

Dodgy dossier

In a foreword to the so-called "dodgy dossier", it was said that possession of chemical and biological weapons by Saddam was "beyond doubt" and that he could deploy them within 45 minutes.

But the inquiry has already heard from senior civil servants who said intelligence in the days before the invasion indicated that Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" had been dismantled.

Hundreds of protesters, including anti-war campaigners and the families of some of the 179 soldiers who have died in Iraq, have gathered outside the building where Blair is giving evidence.

 Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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