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Blair Faces Tough Questions from Lawmakers on Joining Iraq War - 2003-07-08

Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, has run into a barrage of questions from a powerful parliamentary committee regarding his decision to go to war in Iraq.

Mr. Blair said he stands by the case he made for sending British forces to fight in Iraq, and he refutes any suggestion that his government misled either lawmakers or the general public.

He was questioned at length by members of the parliamentary liaison committee, a powerful body made up of leading politicians.

Mr. Blair was asked whether, with hindsight, he felt he made the right decision in entering the war.

"I am quite sure we did the right thing in removing Saddam Hussein," said the prime minister. "I am quite sure we did the right thing, because not merely was he a threat to his region, to the wider world, but it was an appalling regime that the world is well rid of. And I think the British army and the British people can be proud of the part they played."

But the reason the British leader gave for invading Iraq centered specifically on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, weapons that have not been found.

This, Mr. Blair believes, may be resolved as interviews continue with Iraq's leading scientists. "I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programs, no doubt at all," stressed Mr. Blair.

But doubts persist and questions remain surrounding the two government dossiers that were published before the war.

Some critics say a claim of the dossiers, quoting a single intelligence source as saying that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction on 45 minutes' notice, had been given too much prominence. That aspect is highlighted by a British Foreign Affairs Committee report.

Another question centers on why Mr. Blair's government allowed a major section of the second dossier to be lifted from a graduate student's thesis that was found on the Internet.

Skepticism is growing in the British public. Mr. Blair's integrity has been called into question over the issue.

A new poll published by the Times of London newspaper shows that 45 percent of Britons interviewed feel the military action taken in Iraq was wrong, compared with just 24 percent in April.