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Blair defends decision to go to war against Saddam

world Updated: Jan 29, 2010 19:48 IST

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday defended his decision to take UK to war against Saddam Hussein in 2003 because he believed "beyond doubt" that the Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Seven years after the invasion that toppled the Iraqi dictator, and almost three years after Blair handed over power to Gordon Brown, the unpopular Iraq war continues to be controversial.

Blair also denied striking a "covert" deal with George Bush to invade Iraq at a private meeting in 2002 at the US president's ranch.

In three hours of examination at the Chilcot inquiry today, Blair insisted that, on the basis of the intelligence available at the time, he stood by his claim at the time that it was "beyond doubt" Iraq was continuing to develop its weapons capability.

"It was at least reasonable for me at the time, given this evidence of what the JIC was telling me, that this was a threat I should take very seriously," he said.

"I decided that this intelligence justified our [understanding] that Saddam continued to pose a significant WMD threat," he said.

Blair told the Iraq Inquiry that his contentious decision to back the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq was inspired by fears of another, even deadlier, terror attack than 9/11.

He stressed the attitude towards the threat posed by Saddam "changed dramatically" after the terror attacks on 11 September 2001, saying: "I never regarded 11 September as an attack on America, I regarded it as an attack on us."

Clutching a sheath of documents, a tense-looking Blair answered questions from the Iraq Inquiry, a wide-ranging probe set up by the government to scrutinize the behind-the-scenes machinations from 2001 through Britain's decision to join the costly and unpopular Iraq war.