Former British prime minister Tony Blair sought a diplomatic solution to fears over Iraq’s weapons programme until just before the United States-led invasion in 2003, his former communications chief said on Tuesday.
Appearing before a public inquiry into the Iraq War, Alastair Campbell said there never was a “precipitate rush to war” despite the close ties between Blair and former United States president George Bush.
“You seem to be wanting me to say that Tony Blair signed up to say, regardless of the facts, regardless of WMD [weapons of mass destruction], we are just going to get rid of the guy [Saddam]. It was not like that,” Campbell told the inquiry.
He said that Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007, was concerned about the links between weapons of mass destruction, rogue states and terrorism, and that these fears predated the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda.
The five-person inquiry is seeking to learn lessons from the Iraq War. Blair is expected to appear before it in the next few weeks.
The inquiry comes at a sensitive time in British politics, with an election due by June which the opposition Conservatives are forecast to win.
Many supporters of centre-left Labour remain angry at Blair for leading Britain into a war in which 179 British soldiers were killed.
Britain joined the invasion despite widespread doubts about its legality and mass protests against it on the streets of London.
Campbell said that current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who served as finance minister under Blair, was one of the inner circle of advisers to Blair.
“Gordon Brown would have been one of the key ministers that he would have spoken to regularly,” Campbell said. Brown will not appear before the inquiry until after the election. — Reuters