/ 5 March 2010

UK PM Brown says Iraq War was justified

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told an official inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq on Friday that going to war had been the right decision and that he had provided the necessary funding for military action.

Brown, appearing just weeks before an election to discuss a war that still rankles with many Britons, said Iraq’s failure to comply with United Nations resolutions justified war.

But he distanced himself from concerns about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s suspected weapons of mass destruction in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Brown is the most prominent figure to give evidence before the five-person panel since his predecessor, Tony Blair, made a highly publicised appearance in January.

While Blair was criticised for saying he had no regrets about the war, Brown’s opening statement expressed sorrow for the deaths of both British servicemen and Iraqi civilians.

“I believe this is the gravest decision of all, to make a decision to go to war. I believe we made the right decision for the right reasons,” Brown told the inquiry.

While a far less vocal advocate of the war than Blair, critics have accused Brown, who was finance minister at the time of the 2003 US-led invasion, of failing to provide enough funding for military chiefs to equip troops properly.

Some relatives of the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq say this failure led to unnecessary deaths and are demanding that the inquiry team, headed by former civil servant John Chilcot, press Brown for answers on the issue.

The issue of support for Britain’s military remains contentious because 10 000 troops are fighting in Afghanistan and face a similar threat from insurgents.

“There was no time … when the Treasury said this is a better military option because it’s cheaper or less costly,” Brown told the inquiry. The invasion of Iraq has been one of the most damaging episodes during the Labour Party’s 13 years in power, provoking internal divisions and huge public protests.

With an election due by June 3 and polls indicating that Britain is on course for a hung Parliament, Brown will be anxious to avoid any embarrassment.

Weapons of mass destruction
While much of Blair’s testimony related to the threat of weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands as the main reason for conflict, Brown instead focused on former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s failure to cooperate with the UN.

“My feeling was and still is that we cannot have an international community that works if we have either terrorists who are breaking these rules or … aggressor states that refuse to obey the laws of the international community,” he said.

Initially the inquiry, which Brown himself set up last year following long-standing calls from opposition politicians and bereaved families, said it would not call any government ministers until after the election.

But in January Brown said he would appear whenever the inquiry asked him after opponents challenged him to give evidence before the poll.

Before Brown began giving evidence, Chilcot appealed to all politicians not to use the probe for political purposes.

Commentators said Brown would be pleased to get the hearing out of the way but it would be unlikely to seriously damage his Labour Party.

“There will be uncomfortable headlines over the weekend, but there’ll be another story by Monday,” said Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of political science at the University of Bristol. — Reuters