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Britain's Prime Minister Testifies on UK Role in Iraq War

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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says it was right to go to war in Iraq in 2003, but laments the loss of life and mistakes made.  Mr. Brown testified for over four hours before a public inquiry panel about Britain's role in the conflict and its aftermath.

Mr. Brown left little doubt from the outset about his support for the Iraq invasion.

"This is the gravest decision of all to make a decision to go to war," said Gordon Brown. "I believe we made the right decision for the right reasons."

And he said the right reasons were Saddam Hussein's refusal to comply with UN resolutions and the demands of the international community.

"We cannot have an international community that works if we have either terrorists who are breaking these rules or in this case, aggressor states that refuse to obey the laws of the international community," he said.

Gordon Brown was treasury chief in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair at the start of the Iraq war. He became prime minister in June 2007 when Mr. Blair stepped down and he presided over the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.

There have been allegations that as treasury chief, Mr. Brown cut military spending before the 2003 invasion and did not provide adequate funding for military equipment. Not so, said the former Chancellor.

"I'd already made it clear that the military option had to be one that was best for the military and that the Treasury would not in any way interfere and suggest there were cost grounds for choosing one option against another.  That was not our job," said the British PM.

Mr. Brown added that throughout the war no request for military equipment was turned down because of cost.

He was queried by panel members about the government's decision to go to war and subsequent decisions on the conduct of the war and its aftermath.

He also spoke about what went wrong, mainly with post war reconstruction.

"I said that we had to plan properly for that," stated Gordon Brown. "But, let us be honest, we couldn't persuade the Americans that this had to be given the priority that it deserved."

Mr. Brown also said that in future conflicts greater international support and coordination should be secured.

Britain sent over 45,000 troops to Iraq in 2003 to help topple Saddam Hussein.  One hundred seventy-nine British military personnel were killed in the conflict.

British troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, but some 10,000 are now serving in Afghanistan, fighting alongside U.S. and NATO forces.

Mr. Brown said lessons have been learned.

"We now know that cannot win the peace simply by military action, you need to engage the people or Iraq or any other country, you need to give them the chance of political empowerment at some stage, you need to have strong security forces and you need economic development," he said.

Those lessons said, Mr. Brown, are being applied in Afghanistan.

Britain's involvement in the Iraq war was deeply unpopular at home and remains a highly divisive issue.

Former prime minister Blair testified before the same inquiry panel in January. His adamant defense of the war and saying he had no regrets rankled many.
 
In his opening statement Gordon Brown also defended the war, but he also paid tribute to the military personnel and civilians killed and injured in the conflict.   

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