LONDON: Former British prime minister Tony Blair said Friday he had supported the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein flaunted UN resolutions, not because he wanted regime change.
In the opening exchanges of his evidence to a public inquiry into Britain s involvement in the war, he insisted the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States had dramatically changed his view of the threat posed by the Iraqi leader.
Blair was asked about a recent interview in which he appeared to say he would have invaded Iraq even if he had known weapons of mass destruction (WMD) would not be found.
He replied: I didn t use the words regime change in that interview and I didn t mean in any sense to change the basis.
Obviously, all I was saying was you cannot describe the nature of the threat in the same way if we knew then what we know now.
It was in no sense a change of position. The position was that it was the breach of UN resolutions on WMD. That was the case. It was then and it remains.
Blair, wearing a navy blue suit and red tie and looking tanned, said Iraq had shown 10 years of defiance and had to be brought back into compliance.
The devastating attacks on New York and Washington showed the West could no longer afford to take the risk that Saddam could re-activate his weapons programs, Blair told his panel of questioners.
Up to September 11 we thought he was a risk but we thought it was worth trying to contain it.
The crucial thing after September 11 is that the calculus of risk changed.
And, just so we get this absolutely clear, this was not an American position – this was my position and the British position.
Blair s evidence at a central London conference centre was being watched by an audience including relatives of the 179 British soldiers killed in the war.
Reg Keys, whose son Thomas died in Iraq in 2003, said before the hearing he wanted to hear why Blair approved a dossier used to justify the case for war by claiming Saddam could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.
It s a day we ve waited a long time for and I want to hear what he s got to say, Keys told AFP.
He needs to explain why he misled parliament, why information was changed in the dossier… and why we found our loved ones in a conflict that was very questionable.
Blair, who left office in 2007, is expected to be asked whether he told then President George W. Bush that Britain would support the United States in military action regardless of diplomatic moves.
Hundreds of anti-war protesters waving placards saying Bliar and chanting Tony Blair War Criminal protested outside the conference venue.
They accused Blair of being a coward after he was driven into the building through a side entrance.
Activists said they were convinced Blair had given them the slip.
Lindsey German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition, said: He doesn t have the decency or honesty to face up to the public, military families, and Iraqis who will be here today in huge numbers to show their opposition to the war.
He does not have the integrity to come and face the people. Sliding in by a back door entrance is typical of his lies, deceit and evasion.