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Blair Returns for Second Round in Iraq Inquiry

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair leaves the inquiry into the Iraq war, Jan. 21, 2011.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair leaves the inquiry into the Iraq war, Jan. 21, 2011.

Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair has told an inquiry into the Iraq war that he pledged Britain’s support for the U.S.-led invasion a year before the war in Iraq began. Mr. Blair appeared before the Iraq Inquiry on Friday for the second time.

Mr. Blair assured the inquiry panel that unconditional support for a U.S. led invasion wasn’t promised. But he said, despite legal concerns in Britain about the legality of invading Iraq, he believed the September 11 bombing in the United States meant that action was needed.

"I am in a situation then where I am saying, look we are going to have to deal with this issue, we accept that," Blair said. "After September 11th, the calculus of risk has changed and changed fundamentally. We cannot allow Saddam to be in breach of UN resolutions. So I'm signaling that I am up for the policy of handling and dealing with these issue and we're going to be with America in doing that."

The timing over the decision about when to go to war has been a focal point for those who have opposed the invasion. They say Mr. Blair was prepared to go to war with or without backing from the United Nations and despite legal concerns.

At the same time as Mr. Blair was pledging his support for intervention in Iraq, Britain’s top legal advisor, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, advised that invasion would be illegal without a second UN resolution.

Mr. Blair says if Goldsmith hadn’t reversed that opinion, as he later did, Britain would not have joined the invasion.

As Mr. Blair arrived at the inquiry on Friday he was met outside by dozens of protesters who yelled "Tony Blair, terrorist!" Inside were relatives of some of the British personnel who died in Iraq.

At the end of his nearly five-hour testimony Mr. Blair said he regretted the loss of life in Iraq - a comment which was met with some disquiet.

"Of course, I regret deeply and profoundly the loss of life, whether from our own armed forces, those of other nations, the civilians who helped people in Iraq or the Iraqis themselves. And I just wanted to say that because I think it is right to say it and it is what I feel," Blair said.

The British government established the Iraq Inquiry to examine the lead up to war and figure out what errors were made in plans for post-conflict reconstruction. It has no legal power and is not designed to apportion blame.

This was the second time Mr. Blair has appeared before the panel.

Political expert Michael Cox is from Britain’s London School of Economics. He says during both interviews, Mr. Blair made it clear that he believes invading Iraq was the right thing to do despite the fact that weapons of mass destruction were never discovered.

"One thing that does come out is that Tony Blair will not apologize and he certainly thinks that history has already vindicated his decision and that history will vindicate his decision," Cox said.

Mr. Blair was Prime Minister of Britain from 1997 until 2007.