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Tony Blair Aide Testifies at Iraq Inquiry

Tony Blair (file photo)

A top aide to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says his boss was determined to deal peacefully with the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, until just before the 2003 Iraq War. Blair aide Alastair Campbell spoke on Tuesday in London at a public inquiry called to review British decision-making ahead of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Alastair Campbell was one of Tony Blair's closest aides. He said there was never a rush to war on the part of the Blair government, despite the former prime minister's close ties with then-U.S. President George W. Bush. "It's not that George Bush was saying, 'C'mon Tony, we'll go to war.' It just wasn't like that at all," he said.

Campbell said Mr. Blair had a consistent policy in the run up to the war - both with the U.S. president and with the public. "The prime minister made clear throughout this that our objective was disarmament of Saddam Hussein - through the United Nations, forcing him to comply with a stream of United Nations resolutions," he said.

Campbell said Mr. Blair pursued a military track alongside the diplomatic one, to keep pressure on Saddam Hussein. But Campbell said Mr. Blair's first choice was a solution that included the United Nations. "He kept saying conflict is not inevitable, disarmament is. But he was clear throughout that if the diplomatic route did not lead to disarmament through Saddam facing up to his obligations through successive U.N. resolutions, then the military option was evident," he said.

Campbell also said that Mr. Blair was satisfied with what later proved to be faulty pre-war intelligence estimates that showed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

"You can have all the advisors you want. And you can have all the military advisors and the diplomats and the rest of it. He [the prime minister] has to make judgments - strategic, diplomatic, political. He has to make those judgments and he has to present those judgments to the public," he said.

Mr. Blair has been criticized for misleading the public and parliament. The former prime minister says he stands behind the decision to oust the Iraqi dictator, regardless of whether there were weapons of mass destruction.

Campbell told the panel that Tony Blair was aware of the tremendous opposition he faced in his decision to go to war, but that Mr. Blair firmly believed military action was needed. "I saw the seriousness with which he took the decision; I saw how much it weighed on him. But equally, I saw somebody who fundamentally really deeply believed that unless the world confronted Saddam Hussein at that time, ultimately, sadly in that way because the diplomatic route failed, then there would be a bigger day of reckoning later on. And I think he still believes that now," he said.

Campbell was among the first major figures from Mr. Blair's inner circle to give his version of events to the Iraq Inquiry, the most wide-ranging investigation into the war so far in Britain. Mr. Blair, whose political position was undermined by widespread unhappiness with the war, is expected to testify in the coming weeks. Britain's inquiry comes as an investigation in the Netherlands has ruled that the invasion of Iraq had no legal backing.