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Tony Blair sets forth his own Iraq history

In testimony before Britain's Iraq Inquiry, the former prime minister insists the intelligence justified war.

A video grab image shows Britain's former prime minister, Tony Blair, addressing the Iraq Inquiry, in central London Jan. 29, 2010. (UKBP Via Reuters TV/REUTERS)

LONDON, United Kingdom — Clearly feeling the strain of six hours at the witness table, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair survived his day of testimony at Britain's Iraq Inquiry here without his inquisitors landing a serious blow.

His voice failing but his spirit intact, Blair today threw himself robustly into the task of writing into history his own version of the war. He finished the gruelling day by insisting that Iraqis were better off materially now than they had been under Saddam Hussein, and that he had no regrets about removing the dictator.

He categorically rejected any suggestion that he had deceived the public about the grounds for war.

“This isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception,” he declared. “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 it would be irresponsible to take?”

Blair also defended his alliance with the United States, denying that there had been a covert deal between himself and then-President George W. Bush, saying instead that he “didn't want America to feel that it had no option but to do it on its own.”

In three hours at the witness table this morning, Blair insisted that intelligence assessments supported the view that Iraq had a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program.

“It was at least reasonable for me at the time [to conclude that] this was a threat I should take very seriously,” he said. “All the intelligence we received was to the same effect. There were people perfectly justifiably and sensibly also saying that you cannot sit around and wait ... you have got to take action clearly and definitively.”

Blair’s eagerly awaited appearance at the hearings came at the end of a week of revelations that attacked the legality of the 2003 invasion and chipped away at the foundations of his government’s war rationale.

The inquiry is the fifth in a succession of panels set up by the government in response to public fury about the war. All have failed to defuse a widespread conviction, focused on Blair himself, that Britons were deceived, and in the days before his appearance feelings against him were stoked by his detractors.

Anticipating high emotions, police prepared for the worst, and in a street just out of sight of the conference center where the inquiry is taking place waited a long row of police vans.

Yet it was an orderly throng that gathered in the cold rain, displaying signs that called the former prime minister a liar and mass murderer. A young man in a rubber Bair mask gripped the bars of a mock-up prison cell. Blair himself arrived at 7 a.m. and was whisked into the building through a rear entrance blocked off by police.