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British Election Campaign Focuses on Iraq


British Prime Minister Tony Blair's handling of the Iraq war has come under attack by both major opposition parties just 10 days before a general election.

Iraq has emerged as a campaign issue, as the Conservative Party accuses Mr. Blair of lying, and the anti-war Liberal Democrats demand another public inquiry into how Britain entered the war.

The dispute is fueled by apparent leaks to news media of a classified report by Prime Minister Blair's attorney general, submitted 12 days before the war began, listing six reasons why the U.S.-led invasion would violate international law. The attorney general then apparently reversed himself and advised the cabinet the war would be legal, three days before the bombing began.

The Blair government has refused to publish the attorney general's report, nor confirm or deny the truthfulness of the newspaper accounts.

The opposition Conservative Party backed the decision to go to war in Iraq, but its leader, Michael Howard, now charges that Mr. Blair deceived parliament over the legality of the war.

"This is a man who has taken a stand on just one thing in the eight years that he has been prime minister, on the war in Iraq," he said. "And he has not told the truth about that."

Mr. Blair defends his decision, saying Iraq is better off with Saddam Hussein as a prisoner, not president.

"There's no point in going back over it again, and again and again," he said. "And at some point people are just going to have to accept sometimes in politics you get a difficult decision and you have to make it."

The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, says to focus on the fate of Saddam Hussein misses the broader point.

"Everybody recognizes that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein," he said. "But it is better to achieve these things by maintaining sensible international order."

It remains to be seen how the renewed debate on Iraq will play with voters. Until now, domestic issues such as health care and the economy have dominated the campaign for the May 5 election, in which Mr. Blair hopes to lead his Labor Party to a third straight term in office.

Opinion polls suggest Labor is on track to win, but by a smaller margin than its landslide victories in 1997 and 2001.

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