Tall sto­ries… Blair faces grilling on Iraq

Pro­test­ers de­mand war crimes trial for ex-PM

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

LON­DON: For mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Tony Blair ac­knowl­edged yes­ter­day that Sad­dam Hus­sein hadn’t be­come a big­ger threat af­ter 9/11, but said the at­tacks had dra­mat­i­cally changed his per­cep­tion of the risk posed by ter­ror­ists ac­quir­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

Blair told Bri­tain’s Iraq In­quiry that his con­tentious de­ci­sion to back the 2003 USled in­va­sion of Iraq was in­spired by fears of an­other, even dead­lier, ter­ror at­tack.

“It wasn’t that ob­jec­tively he (Sad­dam) had done more, it was that our per­cep­tion of the risk had shifted,” Blair said. “If those peo­ple in­spired by this re­li­gious fa­nati­cism could have killed 30 000, they would have. From that mo­ment Iran, Libya, North Korea, Iraq… all of this had to be brought to an end.

“The pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tion… was to send an ab­so­lutely pow­er­ful, clear and un­remit­ting mes­sage that af­ter 9/11 if you were a regime en­gaged in WMD (weapons of mass de­struc­tion), you had to stop.”

Clutch­ing a sheath of doc­u­ments, a tense-looking Blair sat down in a Lon­don con­fer­ence cen­tre to an­swer ques­tions from the Iraq In­quiry, a wide-rang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­mis­sioned by the gov­ern­ment to scru­ti­nise the be­hindthe-scenes machi­na­tions from 2001 through Bri­tain’s de­ci­sion to join the costly Iraq war.

Blair was ques­tioned about charges that his gov­ern­ment was so de­ter­mined to top­ple the Iraqi dic­ta­tor that they ex­ag­ger­ated the con­tent of in­tel­li­gence re­ports on Iraq’s sup­posed weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

He was pressed on when ex­actly he of­fered US Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush sup­port for an in­va­sion.

The for­mer Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, Christo­pher Meyer, has said it ap­peared an agree­ment had been “signed in blood” by Bush and Blair at the pres­i­dent’s ranch in Craw­ford, Texas, in April 2002.

“The only com­mit­ment I gave (at Craw­ford) was a com- mit­ment to deal with Sad­dam,” Blair said. He said he told Bush “we will be with them in deal­ing with this threat.”

Blair said other world leaders did not feel the same way he and Bush did.

“Al­though the Amer­i­can mind­set had changed dra­mat­i­cally (af­ter 9/11) – and frankly mine had as well – when I talked to other leaders, par­tic­u­larly in Europe, I didn’t get the same im­pres­sion.”

An au­di­ence gath­ered in a cen­tral Lon­don con­ven­tion cen­tre for the ses­sion in­cluded fam­ily mem­bers of sol­diers and civil­ians killed or miss­ing in Iraq. Com­muters arriving at the West­min­ster un­der­ground sta­tion near the hear­ing cen­tre were met by sev­eral peo­ple gath­er­ing sig­na­tures for a pe­ti­tion urg­ing that Blair be tried as a war crim­i­nal.

Blair had ar­rived shortly be­fore 7am yes­ter­day, dodg­ing demon­stra­tors by en­ter­ing the con­fer­ence cen­tre through a cor­doned-off rear en­trance. About 150 pro­test­ers out­side shouted slo­gans in­clud­ing “Jail Tony” and “Blair lied – thou­sands died,” as rows of po­lice of­fi­cers looked on.

As Blair tes­ti­fied, demon­stra­tors out­side the con­ven­tion hall read aloud the names of civil­ians and mil­i­tary per­son­nel killed in Iraq.

“The Iraqi peo­ple are hav­ing to live ev­ery day with ag­gres­sion, divi­sion, and atroc­i­ties,” said pro­tester Saba Jai­wad, an Iraqi. “Blair should not be here giv­ing his ex­cuses for the il­le­gal war, he should be taken to The Hague to face crim­i­nal charges be­cause he has com­mit­ted crimes against the Iraqi peo­ple.”

Blair ac­knowl­edged that the de­ci­sion to join the war – which led to the largest pub­lic protests in a gen­er­a­tion in Lon­don – had met with op­po­si­tion in the coun­try, and in his own cab­i­net.

“The one thing I found through­out this whole mat­ter from a very early stage is that I was never short of peo­ple chal­leng­ing me on it,” Blair told the panel. – Sapa-AP

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