This was the moment everyone had waited for: Tony Blair, wearing a navy blue suit and a red tie, Friday sat down before the Chilcot inquiry into the U.S.-led Iraq war in downtown London. Outside, hundreds of anti-war protesters had lined up with signs reading "Liar" and "Jail Tony."
In his six-hour testimony to the panel, Blair repeatedly and strongly defended his decision to take Britain to war, arguing that the intelligence community was consistently persuasive on the existence of a covert Iraqi WMD program.
"The decision I took -- and frankly would take again -- was if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction we should stop him," he added. "That was my view then and that is my view now."
The British public is angry with Blair for maneuvering Britain into a military campaign that was based on shaky intelligence and resulted in the deaths of 179 British troops as well as 100,000 Iraqis.
Notwithstanding the hundreds of demonstrators outside, Blair vowed he did not deceive the public about the reasons for going to war.
"This isn't about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception," Blair said. "It's a decision. And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam's history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over 1 million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking U.N. resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programs or is that a risk that it would be irresponsible to take?"
He continued: "I had to take the decision. I believed, and in the end the Cabinet believed -- so did Parliament incidentally -- that we were right not to run that risk."
The high-profile public inquiry already grilled several military officials and ministers and will question current Prime Minister Gordon Brown next month.
Earlier testimonials had indicated that Blair and former U.S. President George W. Bush struck a secret deal to go to war at all costs. Blair, who was derided in the early months of the war as "Bush's poodle," strongly denied this, saying that he had tried to prevent the war until the last minute.
"This is an alliance that we have with the United States of America," he said. "It is not a contract; it's not, 'You do this and we'll do that.'"
Blair added, however, that he had told Bush that Britain would be with him if military action was not avoidable.
Blair said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed threat assessment of terrorists and rogue states, and convinced him to not wait too long before taking bold action.
"The point about those acts in New York is that, had they been able to kill more people than the 3,000, they would have. My view was you can't take risks with this issue."
The relatives of the fallen British soldiers listening to Blair's testimony were not convinced.
"I would like him to look into my eyes and say 'I'm sorry.' But he hasn't got the guts," Theresea Evans, whose son Llywelyn died in Iraq in 2003, told the London Times. "He's got no feelings at all for anybody."
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