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Weapons top concern, Iraq inquiry hears

LONDON, July 8 (UPI) -- The British Ministry of Defense was concerned primarily with removing weapons from Iraq during the planning stages of the war, officials told a war inquiry.

London is examining its role in the Iraq war from the planning stages to the departure of British forces in 2009.

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Ian Lee, who served as the director general of operational policy in the Ministry of Defense from 2002 to 2004, told the inquiry in a written testimony that the primary concern was removing weapons of mass destruction from Iraq.

Lee said it was "reasonable to extrapolate" that regime change could be a final outcome from the military invasion of Iraq. "From the MOD point of view at the time, however, removal of WMD was the primary objective and the campaign planning was constructed on this basis," he said.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the inquiry in 2009 that if disarming Iraq led to the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, then "so be it."

The inquiry said in a statement Thursday that it interviewed 35 witnesses in private sessions.

"These hearings have given the inquiry valuable evidence which could have not be heard in public session without damaging national security or international relations," said inquiry director John Chilcot.

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The inquiry has interviewed more than 140 witnesses since proceedings began in 2009.

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