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Blair Defends Iraq War Decision - 2004-07-20


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has strongly defended his decision to go to war in Iraq despite an investigation that found flaws in pre-war intelligence and Mr. Blair's style of governance.

The British parliament held a special debate Tuesday on whether Britain should have gone to war in Iraq in light of a report on the intelligence failures in the run-up to the conflict.

Prime Minister Blair was defiant in his defense of the war, despite the report's findings that intelligence was used selectively to overstate the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "The intelligence really left little doubt about Saddam and weapons of mass destruction, and made it absolutely clear that we were entirely entitled on the basis of that to go back to the U.N. and say there was a continuing threat from Saddam Hussein," he said.

Lawmakers repeatedly challenged the prime minister about the case he made against Iraq ahead of the war. But Mr. Blair said most of them would have done the same with the intelligence he had to work with. "The one thing that is absolutely absurd is to suggest that anyone, given that Joint Intelligence Committee assessment, would have said: 'Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction. I don't think that's much of a problem.'"

The leader of the main opposition Conservative Party, Michael Howard, said he would not have voted for the resolution that authorized the war if he had known all the facts. "I don't see how anyone in this house, had they known then what we know now, could have voted for that motion. I don't see how the prime minister could have voted for that motion. That doesn't mean I don't think the war was justified. I do, as I have repeatedly made clear," he said.

The report issued last week says the Blair government complied documents to win public backing for its case against Iraq by using intelligence selectively and leaving out important qualifiers on what was known, and not known, about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

For example, a document Mr. Blair issued in September 2002 said Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes, leading to headlines that Iraq could attack British troops in Cyprus within that amount of time. However, the intelligence turned out to be based on one source and referred to battlefield tactical weapons, not a long-range attack.

Prime Minister Blair told parliament intelligence will not be used that way again, and he promised a more formal governing style to encourage more discussion and dissent among senior policymakers.

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