LONDON: Britain’s public inquiry into the Iraq war has invited international lawyers to comment on the government’s decision to join the US-led invasion in 2003, its chairman said on Tuesday.
Tony Blair, prime minister at the time, sent 45,000 troops to Iraq to help topple Saddam Hussein seven years ago, a decision that deeply divided his Labor party.
Blair, who testified before the inquiry in January, defied mass protests to join the invasion despite the lack of a second UN resolution to justify the use of force.
The inquiry, chaired by former civil servant John Chilcot, was set up last year by Blair’s successor Gordon Brown with the task of learning lessons from the conflict.
"The inquiry has issued an open invitation to international lawyers to comment on the grounds relied on by the British government in undertaking military action in Iraq," Chilcot said in a statement.
His five-person panel resumed public hearings on Tuesday after a break to cover the period of last month’s election when Labor lost power to a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
The panel traveled to France and the United States last month to hold talks with officials including former US diplomat Paul Bremer who governed Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority after Saddam was toppled.
Britain has withdrawn its soldiers from Iraq but has around 9,500 troops fighting in Afghanistan. A rising death toll there is fuelling public debate about that mission.
Prime Minister David Cameron said last week that he would like to see British troops out of Afghanistan within five years and told parliament on Monday that he was seeking a stable rather than a perfect Afghanistan.
Britain has lost more than 300 soldiers in Afghanistan, far more than the 179 killed during the Iraq conflict.
Chilcot said on Tuesday that his panel had held a private meeting with US General David Petraeus during his visit to Britain earlier this month.
Petraeus, who is about to take over command of US troops in Afghanistan, is credited with helping to pull Iraq back from the brink of civil war.
Former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is expected to appear before the inquiry at some point over the next month. Chilcot intends to complete his report around the turn of the year.