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Britain Defends Decision to Join US-led Attack on Iraq

Britain is defending its decision to go to war against Iraq from critics who say Prime Minister Tony Blair duped the public about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.

Pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Blair to prove the existence of Saddam Hussein's weapons program following a so-far futile search for conclusive evidence.

The former international development secretary, Clare Short, said Mr. Blair misled and deceived parliament in order to meet Washington's timetable for war against Iraq. "We were duped by the speed, claiming that the stuff was weaponized and might be used in 45 minutes, which was part of the secret commitment to a date, which meant everything had to be hurried along," she said.

And the former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, said British intelligence reports about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs appear to have been grossly exaggerated. "What we can I think see now with some certitude is that it is beginning to look as if the government has committed a monumental blunder. And in the real world, government's make mistakes, but what they must never do is to try to deny and cover up these mistakes," he said.

The current foreign secretary, Jack Straw, went on British radio Monday to defend the decision to go war in Iraq, and to deny that the public and parliament were duped.

Mr. Straw said much of the case against Saddam Hussein was contained in the findings of the United Nations weapons inspection team, known as UNMOVIC. "All the evidence, categorical evidence in this UNMOVIC document, and the circumstantial evidence of Saddam's own behavior, pointed to one end," he said. "That he did indeed, in the words of the Security Council, pose a threat to international peace and security."

Prime Minister Blair can expect more questions this week from parliament about the weapons of mass destruction issue. The prime minister has promised to publish new evidence.

But in the meantime, the British public has grown skeptical about the pre-war claims. A poll published Monday shows only about half the public believe Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction before the war, compared with seven-out-of-10 people who thought so in February.