Page last updated at 20:31 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

The Full Story: Tony Blair at the Iraq inquiry

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Tony Blair: "I think that Saddam Hussein was a monster...it was better to deal with this threat"

ANALYSIS - BY IAIN WATSON

Iain Watson
Overall, Tony Blair gave an assured performance. He wriggled a bit when asked not about what he had said to previous Iraq inquiries, but what he had said to daytime TV presenter Fern Britton.

In that recent interview he seemed to be suggesting that he would have argued that Saddam should have been removed from power even if WMDs had not existed. He also seemed less comfortable when discussing the elongated process by which the attorney general finally declared the war to be legal.

Before the conflict, Mr Blair made a confident case based on certainties - Saddam's weapons programme was "active". It was "beyond doubt" that Iraq had WMDs. Today we saw a more subtle case advanced by Mr Blair, but a case which he felt still proved he was right, in the end, to back military action.

With no WMDs discovered, Mr Blair went out of his way to point to Saddam's lack of co-operation in coming clean about his weapons, or lack of them - which meant that Saddam was in "material breach" of his obligations to the UN.

But his main argument was that, actually, decisions weren't based on absolutes but on "the calculus of risk". In the more uncertain world after 9/11 it was simply too risky not take action against a dictator who had used chemical weapons on his own people.

He said that, while the then foreign secretary Jack Straw had told the Inquiry that, legally and politically, the UK had wanted to take action to disarm Saddam rather than remove him (though he wouldn't have been worried if that were an unintended consequence), Mr Blair said it was wrong to create a "binary division" between disarmament and regime change.

In fact, George Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, in 1998, finally took the view that regime change in Iraq was necessary because he could not trust Saddam to disarm. But Mr Blair denied that a deal to go to war had been "signed in blood" at President Bush's Texas ranch in 2002 - the only agreement was to "deal" with Saddam - the means were left open.

He was also keen to undermine the unflattering image of him as a "poodle" of the US - he suggested that had the UN succeeded in disarming Saddam , President Bush would actually have altered the US policy of regime change.

So, to maintain the canine comparisons, this was really the UK tail wagging the US dog. We had an alliance with the US, not a contract, said Mr Blair.

The other striking feature of his performance was the bellicose, almost belligerent, tone towards Iran - whom he blames for undermining post war Iraq.

Mr Blair did not concede much territory to his critics - while he was sorry about the divisive nature of the war, he claimed he had tried to bring people back together and said he did not regret his actions in Iraq.

He was also clear that this was a decision which the bulk of his cabinet - and leading Conservatives - signed up to at the time. He said the late Robin Cook, who resigned from the cabinet over the war, would have backed him if he had managed to get a second resolution from the UN.

So had this been a trial, and not a inquiry, Mr Blair was in effect suggesting that there should have been lots of co-defendants and that if the charge had been misleading people over an illegal war, there had been "no lie", "no deceit".

It was only a "judgement", a "decision", which he felt history would vindicate. His supporters will applaud his robust approach; his opponents will be dismayed that he didn't really express any regrets.

AS IT HAPPENED - BY JUSTIN PARKINSON

Tony Blair
1847 That ends our live coverage of Tony Blair's appearance before the Iraq inquiry. Before we go, just a taste of how some of the newspapers' websites are handling the story. The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph both focus on the heckling of Mr Blair towards the end of his six-hour evidence session. The Mirror, meanwhile, reports how Mr Blair said he had been right to remove Saddam. The Times combines the two aspects of the hearings in its lead story. And The Daily Express has the former PM "defiant" over his role in the war. Please join us again next Wednesday for live text and video coverage of prime minister's questions.

comment from blogger
Paul Waugh, deputy political editor at the Evening Standard, blogs: What is very interesting is Blair's belief that this will have to happen again. He talks about "when you go into a nation building situation in the future" and "lessons learned about nation building".

e-mail sent in by reader
So very, very sad to see so many in the UK blaming, belittling, second-guessing, arm-chair quarterbacking, deriding, mocking, etc. etc. such a great leader, who had so many difficult decisions to make. I was born and raised in the UK and am now a US citizen. So I think I see the issue through two sets of cultural eyes.
Peter, Atlanta

1823 The crowds outside the Queen Elizabeth II centre have mostly gone. It seems Mr Blair left by an unknown exit.

1801 Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg tells the BBC that the Iraq inquiry has not "learned that much which is substantially new from Tony Blair today". He adds: "But I think it's a good thing that, as the prime minister who took us to war seven years ago, he is now there in public, justifying what I regard as the unjustifiable."

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Alheri tweets: Confused - how did machinery of government work well when Blair says they did not consider possible outcomes that transpired?

1752 Still no sign of Mr Blair leaving. No one seemed to see him enter the Queen Elizabeth II Centre this morning, either.

Blair used the constant Iran references as a distraction. Either that or he's trying to shift the debate.
Andrew Darling, Brighton

e-mail sent in by reader
Again I thought the panel didn't get under the skin of the thing. They are failing. For example, why wasn't he challenged on his not fully consulting with cabinet over certain aspects of the legalities?
Darren Felton, Tring

Angus Robertson
1744 Angus Robertson, the SNP's leader at Westminster, says: "It's chilling that Tony Blair failed to show an ounce of regret for a war that killed hundreds of British troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians."

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euphrosene tweets: Articulate James Sandry [the heckler who interrupted the inquiry hearing] should have questioned Blair. Probably would have got better reactions.

1739 Reg Keys, the father of a soldier killed in Iraq, says the former prime minister "steamrollered" the 2003 invasion.

1736 Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot has left the building.

e-mail sent in by reader
The legality of the war is a grey area, and Blair's tactics of attempting to be a European moderator to Bush is clear. I think the inquiry has done well to force him to justify his actions, and he's responded well. A particular question remains: If he knew that intelligence was as he put it 'patchy', why did he present it to parliament as if it was indisputably true? Alas that won't happen.
Matt

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amiras80 tweets: It seems then that Blair can't still say why he felt he had to lie to us to go to war. Did he not trust British public?

e-mail sent in by reader
I don't understand these people saying we still don't know why we went to war. He has already said, quite clearly, that it was due to the change in perception of the danger that Saddam posed. Post 9/11 they felt they could not take the risk of it happening again, perhaps on a larger scale.
Paul, Glasgow

1729 Dozens of police are lined up outside the conference centre in preparation for Mr Blair's departure.

1728 The heckler from the inquiry room tells the BBC the atmosphere was quiet and serious. He was "shocked" at what "the inquiry let him get away with", he adds.

1724 BBC political editor Nick Robinson says that, in the inquiry room, a man shouted "Come on", when Mr Blair was asked about whether he had any regrets. There were boos and one woman shouted: "You are a murderer." There was "fury" from some people that Mr Blair had not decided to show regret.

Iain Watson
1723 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: It's also worth noting that Tony Blair managed to avoid talking about his successor at number 10 - he didn't cite him as a key player and he didn't carp about his then chancellor when it came to providing resources for troops. So Tony Blair's performance won't make Gordon Brown's own appearance before the inquiry easier - but the current PM will probably be grateful that it hasn't made it any more difficult.

Iain Watson
1722 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: There will be a major focus on Tony Blair saying "sorry" that the conflict was divisive but, as the dust settles, there may be renewed analysis of one of Mr Blair's other closing phrases - he said even knowing what we know now (and that will be taken by some as knowing there was no WMD), had we left Saddam in power we may have had to deal with him in circumstances that were worse. There seems little doubt that opponents of war and the former PM's sceptics will say this demonstrates that he was always contemplating regime change. That said, time and again, Tony Blair has pointed to what he believed was the potential threat of WMD during this marathon session.

1719 The chanting of the crowds is getting louder. Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell tells the BBC the Iraq inquiry is comprehensive and that Mr Blair's defence has been "refined" and comes "with the benefit of hindsight".

1717 There is a smallish crowd of protesters outside the conference centre, with Mr Blair due to leave shortly.

1715 It was a long, at times gruelling, day of evidence. Issues ranged from the legal causes of war to planning for its aftermath. It ended on a note of high excitement, with the ex-PM asked to say whether he had any regrets. Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot earlier raised the possibility that Mr Blair might have to return at some stage, but that seems unlikely.

1711 Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot thanks Mr Blair for a "long, hard day of evidence" and the audience for their behaviour throughout the day.

e-mail sent in by reader
"In the end it was divisive & I'm sorry about that". Only willing to say sorry that he couldn't convert everyone to his opinion, but not sorry about everything else..
Luke, Northampton

Tony Blair
1710 Some members of the audience have to be quietened, as they vent their disapproval of Mr Blair. But the former PM says Saddam was a "monster" and says he wants to allow the people of Iraq a democratic future. The questions are over.

1708 Mr Blair is asked about the anger felt towards him over the Iraq war, and whether he has regrets. He replies that he had to take the decision for war and there is "not a single day" when he does not think about it. He adds that, had he left Saddam in power, the circumstances for dealing with him would be worse. Mr Blair says he is "sorry" the war was divisive, but the UK's security is better without Saddam and his sons in power. He feels responsibility but not regret for removing Saddam Hussein. As the session comes to an end he says he believes "the world is safer as a result" of the Iraq war.

e-mail sent in by reader
I am getting tired of all the comments about 'tame questioning'. Mr Blair has proved today that he should still be our prime minister. We are lucky that in the United Kingdom such a public enquiry as this can take place. Thatcher led us into an unnecessary Falklands war, one which Callaghan avoided on several occasions before her - she would not have dealt with this line of questioning and would not have attended.
Paul, Chesterfield

1705 Mr Blair says child mortality has fallen in Iraq because of the change of regime - 50,000 fewer young children dying each year he says. The majority of Iraqis would overwhelmingly say the situation is preferable to that under Saddam, he adds.

Chilcott says "the coalition went in as liberators." This does not sound very impartial.
Jonathan Warner, Slough

Sir John Chilcot
1703 Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot says the "liberators" of Iraq soon came to be resented. He asks whether the people of Iraq thought the invasion and subsequent efforts worthwhile. Mr Blair says it is "too early" to say whether Iraqi democracy will function effectively and take root, although there are "hopeful signs". Income per head has risen, money is being spent on infrastructure, he adds. It was a "very, very difficult fight" and that the UK will be better prepared and educated if it takes part in future nation-building exercises.

e-mail sent in by reader
We still don't know WHY we went to war. We know it was his decision and everything else was forced to fit. But why? The US motivation is clearer, but why did Blair take us along?
Robert, Richmond

e-mail sent in by reader
I was hoping they would go deeper into the reconstruction of Iraq. I think that was the biggest fault on the US and UK involvement in Iraq.
Patrick, Columbia

I would concur with Blair's comments with regards to 2003 and 2010. It is too late to question the decision made, focus should be on how to improve the decision making and accountability moving forward - what has been learned and what can the UK, US and the UN do to manage such situations in the future.
Stuart, Bonn

1658 There was not such a problem with the machinery of government in the lead-up to war that it altered the UK's actions in any way, Mr Blair says.

e-mail sent in by reader
The inquiry was formed to find out why we want to war in the first place and not why they ultimately failed. The baroness has got back to the real questions.
Mr Taylor, Croydon

I think Mr Blair is 100% right in stating that one should approach the issue of the Iraq war and its aftermath as a "2010 question" rather than a "2003 question". I believe, as does Mr Blair, that the right decision was made with hindsight.
Rachel, Cambridge

e-mail sent in by reader
It's clear that the civilians were not killed by the coalition forces but the question to be asked is what was the main cause or reason behind these deaths? Your attack on a sovereign conutry and inability or lack of interest to control the situation afterwards because the job was done for them.
Hameed, Geneva

e-mail sent in by reader
An unconvincing performance, even under largely tame questioning. To avoid yet another whitewash, he'll need to be hauled back and pinned down on the key issues.
Carlitos, Watford

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KenPlume tweets: Blair's trying so very hard to make this about what could have been done differently, & not the fundamental issue of the initial decision.

I think Mr Blair is right in deciding to topple Saddam as well as keeping our special relationship with the US while at the same time trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The view that the panel failed to get anything new out of him is ridiculous because we have speculated both about the truth and the rumour and he has nothing new to tell us. He is a brave man and history will judge him as such, especially when our delay to make firm decision on the current Iran issue will come to haunt us.
WAM, Cambridge

Iain Watson
1656 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair ends the questioning on post-war planning with his customary defiant and robust tone - he seems more assured here than on the dense questioning on the legality of the conflict earlier. He says there was no "cavalier" attitude taken to planning the aftermath of war and that - as with Afghanistan - you have to be prepared for the long haul

1655 There could have been a major legal debate about military action in Kosovo in the late 1990s but there was not, because it was not such a politically divisive issue as Iraq, Mr Blair says.

Iain Watson
1653 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair is keen to rebut the allegation that he led entirely from the front on invading Iraq and that though his colleagues may have been behind him, they were a long way behind. He says there were 25 discussions on Iraq at cabinet meetings - and that most of the cabinet agreed with him, but could challenge if they wish (and as the late Robin Cook did) - and there was an "immense amount" going on in Clare Short's International Development Department; implicitly he's saying she shares responsibility for decisions though she resigned after the conflict. It had been suggested that Tony Blair had kept some senior colleagues out of the loop on key decisions. He suggests Clare Short was involved in post war planning discussions well before the war itself began.

1651 The cabinet was focused on political issues at the time of making decisions on whether to go to war, Mr Blair says. Even Robin Cook, who quit over the war, said it was necessary to get a second UN resolution for such reasons, he adds.

1648 Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, tells the BBC: "Blair may have danced around the questions but his legacy of lies and illegality will be his last waltz."

1645 The cabinet had 25 pre-invasion discussions, Mr Blair says. There was a "constant interaction", he adds. Members of the cabinet did not feel they were not involved, even Robin Cook, who eventually resigned over the war, Mr Blair says.

1641 Mr Blair says the "key players" in the UK government were in close contact as planning for the war developed.

Tony Blair
1635 Mr Blair says there was not a "cavalier" attitude to planning for the aftermath of the war. But, however much you plan and whatever forces you have, al-Qaeda and Iran would have made the task difficult. This was no reason to "back away", Mr Blair says. Nobody would want to go back to the days of no hope, opportunity or freedom, he adds.

e-mail sent in by reader
It seems Blair wants to be seen as responsible by claiming that the reasons for invading Iraq were firmly rooted in national interest as well as enjoying the altruistic kudos from claiming that he and the soldiers were selflessly doing all this for the Iraqi people. Having cake and eating it too?
Tim, London

e-mail sent in by reader
Tony Blair constantly refers to the "lessons to be learned". For the next conflict? Because he thinks that anyone can learn from his incredibly self-righteous attitude? At no point will he accept that the lesson should be that the UN have the decision power to decide rather than individual states. Astonishing.
Alice, London

e-mail sent in by reader
Blair comes across as an (ex) British politician with conviction and honesty. Perhaps it is because he is such an assured communicator, that really gets people's backs up.
Mike, Athens

Iain Watson
1632 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: The inquiry takes a more emotive turn with Sir Lawrence pointing to the growing civilian death toll after the invasion. Tony Blair passionately argues that this is the fault of the terrorists. But the inquiry are interested in whether coalition troops could do more to protect people and opponents of the war would blame the invasion for unleashing the violence

1631 On the deaths of Iraqi civilians since the war, Mr Blair says the coalition forces were not the ones doing the killing. It was terrorists and sectarians, "deliberately" trying to end the stabilisation process. These were "precisely the same people we were trying to fight everywhere". People in southern Iraq are now better off than under Saddam and have hope of a better future, Mr Blair says. Panel member Sir Lawrence Freedman says that claim is up for debate.

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BBCLauraK tweets: Protesters outside can be heard in here - they claimed they were going to try to stop Blair leaving when day finishes at 5.

1626 Mr Blair says he was "shocked and angry" at pictures showing abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US armed forces personnel. But the activities of a few should not distract from the "magnificent" job done generally, he adds.

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markhw42 tweets: He seems to be blaming Iran for everything. Looks like he's squarin' up for another fight.

1625 It was bound to take a "certain amount of time" to win the battle of creating stability in Iraq, Mr Blair says.

Iain Watson
1624 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: In a rare break with what has largely been a show of unity with the US, Tony Blair says he was worried the Americans were going "too hard" in Sunni areas in the post-war period - but he now wonders if he was right and that it was necessary to beat "the tyranny of the terrorist".

1623 The allies were "reaching out" to the Sunnis after the war, as it was this minority group's "best chance" of participating in politics, Mr Blair says. Some people were determined to prevent this happening, he adds.

Iain Watson
1622 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair says the problem wasn't the pace of reconstruction in post-war Iraq but security - although he also implicitly admits that more attention would have to be paid to "nation building" if a similar situation were to exist in future.

e-mail sent in by reader
Blair has a fantastic capacity fo an imaginative and very convenient retrospective reconstructon of events... what is really disturbing is that he has obviously come to believe in his own fabrication.
Leigh, London

e-mail sent in by reader
I think Blair will think this is a day well spent...making the case for regime change in Iran.
Zafar, London

Tony Blair`s account is quite amazing ...did he make any mistakes during the Iraq Conflict ?
Frank, London

e-mail sent in by reader
The problem with this enquiry is that the truth and the tabloid version are two separate things. You can have 50 enquiries. The truth will always be the only answer. Tabloids just want info that backs their own twisted views.
Nick, Bat

e-mail sent in by reader
He can't claim only to have found out in 2003 that nation building is a part of going to war, which he has just done. Does he know anything about the post-war period in Europe? Breath-taking.
Mr P, London

e-mail sent in by reader
Tony Blair 's evidence is nearly approaching the end, the panel utterly failed to get anything new out of him. I don't think they managed to pin him down. So disappointed.
Dana, Dundee

1616 Mr Blair says the "very purpose" of the people the UK ended up fighting in Iraq was to stop reconstruction. In such circumstances "you don't move to peace-keeping" straightaway, because "your enemy is trying to kill you".

1614 The force required to remove a regime is "one function", but there will have to be nation-building afterwards, Mr Blair says. This may require more or different types of forces, he adds.

Sir Lawrence Freedman
1612 Panel member Sir Lawrence Freedman says WMDs were not found and this was the "headline for most people". He asks when Mr Blair thought this was likely to be the case. During 2004 it became "difficult to sustain" the possibility WMDs might turn up, he answers.

1609 On the disbanding of the Iraqi army by the US, Mr Blair says he is "not sure" about the policy. It would have been "sensible" for the Americans to have a discussion about it.

Jul2 tweets: Blair more composed now, back in comfort zone, being a politician. Should be re-asking him the questions that made him sweat that he didn't answer.

Iain Watson
1604 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair launches another verbal attack on Iran - this time, for deliberately trying to destabilise post-war Iraq but Sir Roderic Lyne, the most dogged of Mr Blair's inquisitors, wonders why this wasn't anticipated. Tony Blair says the advice - presumably the intelligence - suggested that Iran would be glad to see the back of Saddam and would be "amenable" to the new Iraq

Saddam Hussein
1602 Returning to his "twenty ten" point, Tony Blair says that if Saddam had been left in power he has "little doubt" that Iraq would now be "competing" with Iran on nuclear weapons and in support of terrorist groups.

1600 The government asked for an assessment on Iran's likely attitude for an invasion of Iraq, Mr Blair says. The evidence was it would have a "watching brief" and "be pleased" to get rid of Saddam.

1558 The UK tried to "reach out" to Iran, but one of the "most disappointing" aspects of the mission was that the country became a major destabilising influence in Iraq, Mr Blair adds.

e-mail sent in by reader
1556 It's frustrating that nothing new is emerging from Blair's evidence, and that's down to the panel's patent failure to pursue issues the former PM so slickly sidesteps. It feels more like a polite chat over tea about an embarrassing personal problem more than an independent truth-establishing inquiry.
Dominic, San Diego

1556 There was "much discussion" of the Shia-Sunni issue, Mr Blair says. But people did not believe al-Qaeda and Iran would have a destabilising influence. The Iraqi people were not in favour of violence or sectarianism, he says.

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BBCLauraK tweets: First hint at problems with cash for military - Blair says there were "on-going discussions about the defence budget" - will panel push?

1553 On funding for aid and redevelopment, Mr Blair says extra money was agreed with the Treasury in March 2003. Iraq was the "key country" for the Department for International Development in 2003-04, he adds. The problem, which became clearer, "was not a lack of resources, but a lack of security".

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somebadideas tweets: Blair's admonishment that there was no plan for a civil class upon occupation particularly galling: because the Coalition destroyed it.

glinkan tweets: "Pre-war: fine, I was certain they had WMD." "Post-war: couldn't have predicted the situation." Slight disconnect there.

e-mail sent in by reader
Despite the relative civility of the questions posed to the former PM I think that as a nation we can be very proud of this Inquiry. The senior political figure from the period being interrogated live about the war - can anyone imagine this happening in the United States?
Matthew Carn, London

e-mail sent in by reader
How dare he admit to such glaring incompetence. This inquiry is not ALL about the future it is also about the past. How dare he take us to war, invade a people and NOT EVEN consider the 'worst case scenario'! Only now he realises he should have done this? This arrogance is too much. I can have no faith in this country until the law is knocking at his door.
Misallot, Glasgow

e-mail sent in by reader
I've been watching all day, they are now into the mechanics of it all, which is besides the point. They should have really delved into the issues of legality and revealed his level of deceit...the questions have not gone deep enough, he's completely let off the hook.
Rani, Surrey

e-mail sent in by reader
I don't really see it as that important an issue that the enquiry are not asking tough questions. I think every time Blair opens his mouth he shoots himself in the foot.
Simon Head, Hull

1549 Saddam was toppled very quickly but the allies found the situation was different to that which had been expected, Mr Blair says. Another assumption, that Iran would not be provocative, also started to change, with its backing for the Mehdi Army of Moqtada al Sadr, he adds.

1546 Mr Blair says the plan was that the aftermath would not require as many troops as the conflict itself. The issue in southern Iraq was not the number of troops, but how reconstruction could get going while, fairly early on, there were groups opposed to this.

comment from blogger
Will Straw's Left Foot Forward Labour blog says: Tony Blair's performance before the Iraq Inquiry today was as virtuoso as his supporters hoped and his critics feared.

1544 The hearing resumes. Sir Martin Gilbert asks about military overstretch after the war. Mr Blair says he was advised that the effort could be sustained but it would be difficult.

e-mail sent in by reader
Boy does Blair sound defensive as he's rightfully on the hot seat. Stop meandering and pin the man down as he weaves his web around polite questions posed to him. Enough already. This Iraq war was a mistake.
Louis, New York

I listened to about 3 hours of TB's evidence this morning. I started convinced he would be shown up to be a liar and to have been in president Bush's pocket. Having listened I found his evidence very credible, and his statement that he had to make a judgement call the best explanation of his actions I have heard. Why has not explained this before. I think this enquiry is exactly what we needed - well done to whoever was the mover and shaker behind it.
Peter, Cheltenham

e-mail sent in by reader
How come this has been overlooked: "1412 As the war approached President Bush told Mr Blair that, if going into Iraq was too difficult, he would understand if the UK did not get involved, the inquiry hears. It was a "tough situation", Mr Blair adds." That's like my girlfriend telling me "Go to the Pub if you want to..." with me knowing that if I did, I'd be on the couch!!!! No backbone Mr. Blair, should have said no
box_83, Hertford

Tony Blair is nothing if not a slick operator. Does anyone really anticipate that in answer to ANY question he will accept ANY responsibility? More than that, does anyone really believe that this piece of window dressing which is going on is going to achieve anything worthwhile?
Matt, Exeter

Why can't prime minister's questions be anything like this? Answers to questions, such a novelty!
Gabriel Rifkind

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iaincorby tweets: Is four-square behind Tony Blair. Leadership is never easy; we should support the judgement of our prime minister in international affairs.

1539 Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan says the Iraq inquiry panel has "upped its game" in the last couple of weeks, but says members sometimes fail to follow up questions if they are avoided.

1534 BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg says Mr Blair was resolute in saying that UN Resolution 1441 could be used as a "green light" for going to war.

1531 Charles Duelfer, former head of the Iraq Survey Group, tells the BBC that Saddam was "deliberately ambiguous" in the messages he gave out about WMDs, adding to confusion in the West.

Sir Menzies Campbell
1528 Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell tells the BBC: "Mr Blair's self-assurance of the morning has evaporated. Under pressure on the legality of military action he was struggling."

Sir John Chilcot
1527 Mr Blair says states like Iraq under Saddam are repressive and secretive. The question for other countries is whether it is necessary and possible to engage in such places, he adds. Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcott calls another break, with questioning expected to recommence at about 1550 GMT.

Iain Watson
1524 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair is very reluctant to admit to mistakes in planning for the aftermath. The key mistake for him was to assume there would still be a functioning Iraqi civil service after the invasion but said that another potential problem - sectarian violence - was tackled swiftly when Shia, Sunnis and Kurds were quickly brought together. The subsequent problems are blamed on the influence of Iran - a pretty constant bete noire for Tony Blair today - and al-Qaeda.

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Brendan_Surrey tweets: Always an eye for the American response to his answers. Having no criticism of their actions. Can't believe he was our PM.

1522 Mr Blair again says the UK did not plan for the absence of a functioning Iraqi civil service. He adds that "people did not think al-Qaeda and Iran would play the role that they did". The latter influences nearly caused the mission to fail, Mr Blair says. These are the same forces confronted as in Afghanistan, he adds.

comment from blogger
Former Labour spin chief Alastair Campbell blogs: There was nothing said this morning that I haven't heard many times before, but for me the most important part of the proceedings was when Tony Blair pointed out that ultimately this was a judgement that he as prime minister had to make.

Iain Watson
1516 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: There's been a lot of debate about whether troops were properly equipped for action and whether enough planning had been done - and whether Gordon Brown as chancellor was properly resourcing the troops. Tony Blair attempts to take the political sting out of this early on by saying that it was up to the military to judge if they were prepared and that he as PM "never refused a request for money and equipment".

comment from blogger
From Tory blogger Iain Dale: Could anyone disagree with me if I say that the Chilcot Committee hasn't laid a glove on Tony Blair so far? I'm not sure that I ever expected them to, but I certainly didn't expect it to be this easy for Mr Blair.

1513 The risks and resources required were weighed up and the UK "could not walk away from the people of Iraq" after the war, Mr Blair says. Bu the UK would have done some things differently in hindsight, he adds.

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celtickoala tweets: Blair is passing HUGE responsibility for war decision to Goldsmith! "If 'Peter' had said 'No' ..., but he didn't!". Ergo, It's HIS fault!

bigstanno tweets: God Blair is good. Every question regarding legality is shifted in to the moral domain. It's infuriating.

e-mail sent in by reader
Blair's testimony is useful to the writing of History. This is a step that I, as an Arab, hope that we will learn from. My advice to my fellow Arabs: everyone makes mistakes; the important thing is to avoid those in the future so that we don't relive the nightmare.
Abdulwahid, Yemen

I have been following the early stages of the hearings. I have a firm belief that this is a theatrical performance. The questions were superficial and didn't reflect the seriousness of the issue.
Faysal, Syria

1512 From January 2003 onwards it was clear the UK was going to be in charge of the southern part of Iraq, including Basra, Mr Blair says.

1511 One of the planning assumptions, Mr Blair says, was that there would be a functioning Iraqi civil service below the top level. But dealing with a "semi-fascist state" like Iraq makes that assumption wrong, he adds. It was necessary to rebuild the civil infrastructure from nothing, as it was a "completely broken system".

1510 After a very brief set of questions on military preparation, Mr Blair is asked about planning for the war's aftermath. There was an "immense amount" of this, he tells the panel. The "real problem" was that some wrong eventualities were prepared for. The focus was on humanitarian outcomes, which averted a disaster. But the oil fields were not burned and chemical and biological weapons not used.

1508 There was visible preparation later, but in mid-2002 there was a concern that people did not start to think an invasion was inevitable, Mr Blair says. And "it really wasn't", he adds.

1506 Mr Blair says the Army assured him it would be ready in time for an invasion, and that it subsequently was. He adds that he does not think he refused a request for funding or equipment from the armed forces during his 10 years as PM.

1504 The defence spending review of 1997 stated that the military should be given sufficient time for planning actions, panel member Baroness Prashar says. Mr Blair says that on Iraq, for a time, the government was worried about making planning too visible and "triggering an assumption" of invasion. He repeats that, in October 2002, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said: "We really need to get on with this." Army chief General Sir Mike Jackson had been clear that the forces would be ready, Mr Blair says.

Iain Watson
1500 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Asked if he felt there was a strong legal case for war, Tony Blair said the Attorney General had to come to a decision which in the end, he did. Throughout this session Tony Blair been keen to stress Lord Goldmsith's "top rank" experience as a lawyer, his integrity and his desire to give advice whether required or not - in other words, he has sought distance himself from suggestions that he or his officials could have leant on the attorney general to water down legal objections to war. But the question of what Tony Blair said to Lord Goldsmith in the crucial week of 7-13 March wasn't hotly pursued.

1457 That ends a pretty complicated passage of legal discussion. Now it's time for the issue of planning for the conflict.

1456 Sir Roderic Lyne asks Mr Blair how convinced he was that the UK had a strong legal case after Lord Goldsmith's advice. Mr Blair says Lord Goldsmith would not have reached his opinion "unless he believed it". The attorney general had not said he would not have won a court case with such a point, merely that it was arguable either way, Mr Blair says. On this advice, the former PM says he decided "to go forward".

1452 Sir Roderic Lyne suggests it was a "considerable relief" when Lord Goldsmith offered different advice, on 13 March 2003. Mr Blair says he did so because of the Hans Blix evidence suggesting Saddam had not complied with Resolution 1441. But Sir Roderic says this was contrary to many international lawyers' opinions. Mr Blair says all countries which took military action believed they had a legal reason for doing so.

Iain Watson
1450 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair sidesteps the question of what he said if anything to the Attorney General between 7th and 13th March 2003 when the Attorney General's advice "'evolved"' - in other words when Lord Goldsmith ditched caveats and gave the green light for military action.

1449 The "spirit" of Resolution 1441 was that Saddam would get one final chance, Mr Blair says. Otherwise "that's it", he adds. A further resolution would have been politically preferable, Mr Blair says.

Iain Watson
1448 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: This is an interesting line of questioning by Sir Roderic - why did Tony Blair pursue - in the end without success - a second UN resolution if really, legally, only one resolution would suffice? Tony Blair said it was a difficult, balanced judgment.

Iain Watson
1447 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair confirms military preparations were under way even before the 'first' UN resolution -1441- was passed but makes it clear ultimately no action would have taken without legal cover for it.

1444 Mr Blair says he was "well aware" that Lord Goldsmith was saying that a second UN resolution was needed. Saddam made a "material breach" of the existing Resolution 1441, he added. There was "at least as powerful an argument" in favour of just one, rather than two, resolutions, he adds.

1441 Resolution 1441 was adopted by the UN in November 2002. By early 2003 the armed forces had been instructed to prepare for action, Sir Roderic Lyne says. He asks whether it would have been useful to have the attorney general's advice. Mr Blair says if Lord Goldsmith had said action against Iraq was unlawful, it would not have happened. Mr Blair says the government knew its options. It had not received formal advice, but Lord Goldsmith had made clear his opinion.

1438 Once discussions about action in Iraq began with the Americans, Mr Blair says he was sure by March 2002 that it was important to go via the UN route.

1436 Sir Roderic Lyne says it seems the attorney general rarely discussed the issue of Iraq with Mr Blair, particularly in 2002. Mr Blair says Lord Goldsmith had been "closely involved" but did not attend cabinet until the decision was to be taken. That was the usual practice, he said. However, he added that Lord Goldsmith was giving his advice to the prime minister and ministers, Mr Blair says.

1436 Mr Blair says he was given a Foreign Office paper on 8 March 2002 setting out legal terms for action against Iraq. Military action had been taken against Saddam in 1993 and 1998, he adds. The legal advice made it important to go down the UN route, Mr Blair tells the inquiry. The government was a "long way" from a decision, so the attorney general was not brought in at that point.

1434 Mr Blair says Sir Roderic's was a "fair summary of the legal background". He adds that Resolution 1441 declared Saddam was in breach of the UN's demands.

1428 Sir Roderic Lyne says that Lord Goldsmith said later that Resoultion 1441 was compatible "in principle" with authorising force, but, if the matter came before a court, he was not confident this would work. He had, "to a degree", parted opinion with the Foreign Office lawyers, he adds. Lord Goldsmith was asked for a "yes or no" decision. By 13 March, he had decided that "on balance" there was a lawful basis for use of force without having to go beyond Resolution 1441. But this required a determination that Iraq was "in further material breach" of its obligations. Lord Goldsmith said he had asked Mr Blair to say this and Mr Blair had done so. This gave the "green light" for action, Sir Roderic says.

1425 Mr Blair says he is happy with the summary of legal issues so far. So Sir Roderic continues with his narrative of the way the debate over legality of the war went in the run-up to war.

1423 Sir Roderic Lyne says there was "consistent and united advice" from Foreign Office lawyers that fresh UN authorisation would have been needed to make the use of force against Iraq lawful. However, resolution 1441, which was passed by the UN, was not "crystal clear". Up until February 2003 the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, said that a further decision by the Security Council was required, he adds.

Sir Roderic Lyne
1420 Sir Roderic Lyne moves on to the issue of the legality of the war, which has been such a focus of previous hearings this week. He is summarising what was said previously, allowing Mr Blair to interject if he disagrees at any point.

1416 The aftermath of the invasion was "the most difficult part", Mr Blair says, adding that to have kept out of this would have been wrong.

Iain Watson
1416 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair confirms that George Bush was willing to go it alone in Iraq if it was "too difficult" for Britain but the former PM says his judgement - a word he's used often - was that the alliance with America was important and he had been down a UN path that he had hoped would work and had done everything he could to avoid this "tough choice" - and that the military agreed "if we were going to be part of this we should be whole hearted".

1415 In October 2002, the military was saying it wanted a "wholehearted" operation in Iraq, Mr Blair says. Forces performed magnificently during and after the invasion, he adds.

1413 Mr Blair says he "genuinely hoped" the UN path would work.

1412 As the war approached President Bush told Mr Blair that, if going into Iraq was too difficult, he would understand if the UK did not get involved, the inquiry hears. It was a "tough situation", Mr Blair adds.

1409 Mr Blair says he tried one "last-ditch chance" to get a UN solution, by defining more clearly the definition of a breach of the UN's will in terms of WMDs.

1406 Mr Blair is in his seat again. Sir Roderic Lyne asks about the position of the French government in the lead-up to war in 2003. Mr Blair says he spoke to President Jacques Chirac on 14 March. By that time the French, Germans and Russians had decided against force being used, Mr Blair says. There was a "pretty fundamental" political divide over whether or not there would be UN agreement on force.

Sir John Chilcot
1402 The panel is back. As he did this morning the inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot warns against any distractions from the audience. Many of the audience are new this afternoon - there was so much demand to watch the ex-PM's session that a public ballot for tickets was held, with seats available for the morning or the afternoon.

Liam Fox
1401 Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox told the BBC Mr Blair had given a "very assured performance" and there had been no contrition "because he obviously believed he made the right decision". He said the Tories still backed the invasion but added: "We will want to see what he says in the rest of evidence." He said Mr Blair appeared to be trying to shift the justification for the war from the argument he made at the time about weapons of mass destruction to regime change.

1355 Valerie O'Neill, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, told BBC Radio 4's World at One the atmosphere in the inquiry room was "very tense and there has been a few mutterings from the families when he has said that the families know not to be true".

Peter Biles
1350 From BBC world affairs correspondent Peter Biles at the inquiry: So Tony Blair remains a "true believer" in the Iraq war. There was not a hint of contrition or regret, in spite of the fact that bereaved families who lost loved ones in Iraq, were among those sitting behind him in the public gallery, listening to every word of his evidence. One of the sisters of Margaret Hassan, the British aid worker who was kidnapped and killed in Iraq, said the only consolation to be drawn from this morning's session was that Mr Blair had been forced to appear before the Iraq Inquiry. Mr Blair has remained firm in his belief that what he did in Iraq, was right. He was equally robust in his presentation, frequently trying to direct the Inquiry to notes and references which he had brought to bolster his case. The members of Sir John Chilcot's committee did their best to ensure that Mr Blair answered their questions, and did not deviate to the extent that he took control of the proceedings.

1345 Andrew Gilligan, whose report led to the row between the BBC and the government over the September 2002 dossier, said Mr Blair's argument that the tolerance of Iraq changed after 9/11 "is a fairly illogical position because Iraq by everyone's admission had nothing to do with 9/11".

1338 Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey has said Sir John Chilcot "is absolutely right to demand detailed reasoning from the cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell as to why he has rejected requests to make documents public. It is welcome news that Sir John may recall Tony Blair to the inquiry. The fact that Tony Blair cannot currently be questioned directly against these vital documents is totally unsatisfactory."

1332The SNP's Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, tells the BBC: "Blair is a Private Eye parody of himself: 'Even if it was wrong, it was still the right thing to do'."

Nick Robinson
1333 BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said the most striking thing about the morning's session was there had not been an apology or "a hint of contrition" from Mr Blair. "If you wanted to see Tony Blair pinned down you would be very angry indeed," he added.

1320 Former lord Chancellor Lord Falconer tells BBC Radio 4's The World at One that Mr Blair has shown a "total openness" about discussions with the US ahead of the war.

1319 The Westminster protest appears to have shrunk from its late-morning levels. The weather is dank and dreary. Things should be far livelier when Mr Blair leaves at about 1700 GMT.

tweet
andyvglnt tweets: Apparently I'm the only person on the internet giving Blair the benefit of the doubt. It's worth remembering that Tony Blair is not a panto baddy, but a human being, who took on the most difficult job in the country.

euphrosene tweets: Staggered how forelock tugging the Chilcot questioners have been. No wonder Blair looks like he's at a garden party!

mightymidget88 tweets: Typical Blair, it's his way or no way...You've got to admire his control over the proceedings though.

dotyacd tweets: Blair says "we would have lost our nerve." Does this refer to the then imminent US presidential election?

Nick Robinson
1254 BBC political editor Nick Robinson, who is at the inquiry says: "It was on the issue of regime change that we learnt the most this morning. Up until today witnesses from Tony Blair's government have insisted that the Americans' stated objective of regime change was illegitimate and illegal. The British government's policy of disarmament was distinct, they insisted. However, this morning Tony Blair said that there was no 'binary' choice between them and that they were, indeed, different ways of expressing the same proposition."

Iain Watson
1250 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: During this session Tony Blair had a second a third and a fourth line of defence for his actions in going to war. The first line of defence, of course, was that Saddam's active WMD programme had to be stopped. But then he argues that even though WMD weren't found the Iraq Survey group showed Saddam had the 'intent' to restart such a weapons programme; he then argues that in any case Saddam breached his obligations to the UN by not co-operating enough with the weapons inspectors, unlike the co-operation Gaddaffi gave on his weapons; and finally he argues what would have happened if action hadn't been taken - if the US and UK pulled back from the brink and looked weak what risk in 2010 would the world have faced from an emboldened - rather than ousted - Saddam? So not only no regrets from Tony Blair but he makes the case that it would have been unreasonable and risky - even irresponsible - in the end not to have tackled the Iraqi regime.

1247 Lance Price, Mr Blair's former media adviser, says the ex-PM appeared very well-briefed but anxious not to seem like a politician "on his soap box".

1242 The inquiry breaks up for lunch, with Mr Blair's questioning set to continue from 1400 GMT. Chairman Sir John Chilcot thanks the audience - which includes relatives of some of the service personnel killed in Iraq - for their good behaviour. We hear that some of those in the overflow viewing room decided to pop out a minute or two before the session ended. Wanting to beat the queues at the coffee machine?



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