Blair defends case for Iraq war
British support for war declining, poll shows
LONDON, England -- Prime Minister Tony Blair has staunchly defended his case for going to war with Iraq, rejecting claims that he misled Britain ahead of the conflict.
"I refute any suggestion we misled parliament or the country totally," Blair told a committee of senior members of parliament Tuesday.
"I think we did the right thing in relation to Iraq. I stand 100 percent by it and I think our intelligence services gave us the correct intelligence and information at the time.
"I am quite sure we did the right thing in removing Saddam Hussein because not merely was he a threat ... to the wider world but it was an appalling regime that the world is well rid of."
Fighting for his political reputation, Blair said he was confident that weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq.
He also insisted he had told parliament about a mistake in a February dossier that included an unattributed section of a student's thesis that had been posted on the Internet.
Blair's appearance before the Liason Committee -- made up of the 36 chairmen of other select committees of the lower House of Commons -- comes a day after another parliamentary panel criticized the prime minister over the February dossier.
On Monday, the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded the dossier "was almost wholly counterproductive" and that Blair, in comments to parliament, "misrepresented its status and thus inadvertently made a bad situation worse." (Full story)
Blair had referred to the dossier as "further intelligence," although he acknowledged later it contained material from a graduate thesis.
The Foreign Affairs Committee concluded the government did not mislead the public ahead of the war and cleared Blair's communications director Alastair Campbell of any wrongdoing in preparing an earlier dossier used to justify the UK joining the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
But the committee said the "jury is still out" on the accuracy of information in the earlier document, published in September 2002, which claimed that Iraq could deploy biological or chemical weapons within 45 minutes.
"The jury is not out at all," Blair told Tuesday's hearing.
"You would almost think that this question about Saddam and weapons of mass destruction was somehow invented by the CIA and British intelligence. There is no doubt that Saddam was developing weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Asked whether he accepted that he misrepresented the status of the February dossier, Blair said: "No. I accept that what we should have done was we should have said that this middle part of the document was actually taken from a reference document.
"I didn't know at the time that I put it before parliament that it should have been sourced in that way.
Pressed on the issue, Blair insisted: "We have apologized already and said it was a mistake, we should have sourced the second part of it. ...
"But the information in it was correct (and) the briefing paper was indeed largely based on intelligence."
Blair's appearance Tuesday comes amid calls by political rivals for a judicial inquiry into the case for war, and as a new poll shows that support among British voters for the war has fallen from almost two-thirds at the time of the war to less than half now.
About 47 percent of voters now say it was right to go to war, compared with 64 percent in April and 58 percent in June, according to the poll published in The Times of London on Tuesday. (Full story)
Conservative opposition leader Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy have demanded a judicial inquiry into the case for war, saying the Foreign Affairs Committee was denied access to the witnesses and documents it needed to come to a conclusion.
Duncan Smith also has called on Blair to apologize for misleading parliament by claiming the second dossier, published in February, was produced by the security services, when much of it was in fact taken from a doctoral student's thesis downloaded from the Internet.
"We have never heard the prime minister actually accept and admit that the February dossier was represented as something it was not," Duncan Smith said.