13 Dec 2009

Blair defends decision to invade Iraq

6:23 am on 13 December 2009

Former British prime minister Tony Blair says he would still have supported the invasion of Iraq, even if it had been known that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blair, who is to appear before a long-awaited Iraq war inquiry early next year, says the government would have used other ways to justify its support for the 2003 United States-led war to oust Saddam.

Interviewed on a BBC television programme, Mr Blair said the Iraqi dictator was a threat to the region and his use of chemical weapons on his own people - the Kurds - was reason enough to remove him.

It was the "notion of him as a threat to the region", Mr Blair told interviewer Fern Britton which tilted him in favour of the invasion.

Without claims of weapons of mass destruction it would have been necessary to "use and deploy different arguments".

In the months following the war, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction never turned up and the main justification for the invasion was flawed, the BBC reports.

In the aftermath, Mr Blair said military action was still the right thing to do and now says he would still have thought it right to remove him, even if he had known at the time there were no weapons.

Mr Blair had the support of Parliament and the British cabinet, but that would have been unlikely if he had said that at the time, the BBC reports.

In September 2002, the British government published a dossier that contained the now discredited claim that Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of Saddam's order.

Mr Blair also said: "I can't really think we'd be better off with him [Saddam] and his two sons still in charge, but it's incredibly difficult and I totally understand...

"That's why I sympathise with the people who were against [the war] for perfectly good reasons and are against it now - but for me, you know, in the end I had to take the decision."

UN weapons inspector critical

Mr Blair's words have attracted critics - among them Hans Blix, who was in charge of the United Nations team searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blix says he thought Mr Blair used the weapons as a "convenient justification" for war.

"Saddam's removal was a gain but it's the only gain that I can see from the war," he says.

However, Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari says the people of Iraq support Mr Blair because they were forced to live through years of repression.

"I believe it was worth it. I believe Saddam Hussein's regime was an affront to the intenational community, to the international consciousness, because of the atrocities and crimes he has committed."

But Mr Blix disagreed, saying he believed Mr Blair's statement had a "strong impression of a lack of sincerity".