Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to testify before UK inquiry into Iraq war Jan. 29

By David Stringer, AP
Monday, January 18, 2010

Ex-UK Premier Blair to testify on Iraq war Jan. 29

LONDON — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will give his highly anticipated testimony to an inquiry into the Iraq war next week, the panel said Monday.

Blair, whose popularity suffered because of his decision to back the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, will face several hours of questioning at the five-person tribunal Jan. 29.

The inquiry was commissioned by Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, to examine the case made to Parliament and the public to join the war, along with errors in planning for postwar reconstruction.

Blair is likely to be questioned about his government’s use of intelligence that was later found to be flawed, and about accusations that he offered President George W. Bush support for an invasion as early as April 2002 — a year before legislators approved Britain’s involvement.

Britain’s former ambassador to the U.S., Christopher Meyer, has told the inquiry that Bush and Blair used a meeting that April at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, to “sign in blood” an agreement to take military action in Iraq.

In testimony Monday, Blair’s former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, denied that Blair had agreed to invade in 2002, calling Meyer’s account unreliable.

“I was at Crawford. … Christopher Meyer was not at Crawford. He was at Waco, 30 miles away,” Powell said. “There was not an undertaking in blood to go to war with Iraq. There was no firm decision to go to war.”

Powell insisted Blair had sought to influence Bush’s approach to Iraq, warning the U.S. leader of “the danger of unintended consequences,” if diplomacy failed. Blair had stressed the importance of winning support from other nations for military action in advance, conscious that diplomacy was precarious and any invasion would likely be swift.

“If we don’t and they haven’t been bound in beforehand, recriminations will start fast,” Powell said, quoting a note Blair wrote to Bush following the Crawford talks.

Inquiry chairman John Chilcot said Monday that so many people want to watch Blair testify that a drawing had been held to distribute seats. Chilcot said a third of the 60 seats will be reserved for families of those killed or injured during Britain’s six year mission in Iraq.

The conflict triggered massive protests in the U.K. and left 179 British soldiers dead. British troops withdrew from Iraq last May.

“We hope to see Tony Blair really held to account for the debacle that was the Iraq War,” said Andrew Burgin, of the Stop The War Coalition.

The inquiry won’t apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability, but will offer recommendations on how to prevent errors in future conflicts.

Its findings will be made public by late 2010 — after Britain holds a national election, which must take place by June. Labour, the party of both Blair and Brown, is expected to be voted out after 13 years in office.

Two previous studies into aspects of the war already have been held, both of which cleared Blair’s government of wrongdoing.

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