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Britain anticipates Tony Blair's Iraq testimony

London police brace for protests as former Blair allies appear before the Chilcot commission prior to the ex-prime minister's Friday testimony.

A demonstrators with a Tony Blair mask and hands covered in fake blood protests outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference center in London Nov. 24, 2009. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

LONDON, United Kingdom — With former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s testimony before the Iraq War inquiry now only days away, the nation watches in rapt suspense.

Known as the Chilcot inquiry after its chairman, Sir John Chilcot, the panel formed last summer to investigate the causes and conduct of the bitterly unpopular war has become Britain's daily drama fix.

Testimony this week will attack Blair’s most important position: that the war was legal. Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a top government lawyer who wrote at the time that the “unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression,” and backed her protest up by quitting, will appear in public for the first time since her resignation.

Her testimony is expected to further wound the former prime minister, already hurt by revelations that he privately committed Britain to war before consulting Parliament.

Adding to the drama of a once-powerful man about to be dragged to a public account, has been the sight of old allies, like Jack Straw, the justice secretary, distancing themselves from Blair.

In a country largely united in hatred of the Iraq war, Blair is the focus of venomous emotions. Some of his harshest critics will be present in the chamber when he appears Friday: relatives of British soldiers killed in what many of their countrymen view as a futile and unlawful conflict created by the United States.

Expecting mass demonstrations against Blair, Scotland Yard is planning to ring the venue with extra police.

A sense of spectacle pervades the government-appointed inquisition into the Iraq war. Held in a gray, modernist conference center a short stroll from the palatial, neo-Gothic parliament buildings, it is tempting to view the hearings as an attack on centuries of governmental secrecy and privilege by an implacable present.

Yet it is not so simple.