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Former UK foreign secretary denies regime change plan

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Iraq war inquiry that regime change was not UK policy ahead of the invasion of Iraq. Straw made the statement on the last day of public hearings in the inquiry.

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw exits the Iraq Inquiry in London

Jack Straw insisted Iraq could have avoided the war

Jack Straw on Wednesday told an inquiry looking into Britain's role in the Iraq war that regime change was not the government's policy in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

"The point that we were trying to get across to Saddam [Hussein] was that he had every opportunity to comply with the United Nations obligations without his regime having to be changed," said Straw, who was Britain's foreign secretary from 2001 until 2006. Instead, he argued, containment had been the government's strategy until the decision was taken to use military force.

This appeared to put him at odds with the evidence of former Prime Minister Tony Blair who during an earlier session told the inquiry that he never believed it would have been possible for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to be disarmed peacefully, then stay in power and be 'managed' by the international community.

Blair under fire

The former prime minister was widely criticized following his first appearance at the inquiry, in January 2010, in which he said he had "no regret" about removing Saddam from power. During his second appearance, last month, Blair conceded that he did regret the loss of life in the Iraq conflict.

Britain's former prime minister, Tony Blair, being questioned at the Chilcot Inquiry

Blair has "no regret" about removing Saddam from office

Blair and Straw, who was making his third appearance at the hearings, were among a small number of witnesses who were recalled to clarify previous testimony.

Among the things that have emerged during the public hearings, which began in central London in November 2009, are that Prime Minister Blair told US President George W. Bush in 2002 that the UK would support the US in dealing with Saddam Hussein but that the United Nations route had to be attempted first. It has also become clear that until Britain's attorney general at the time, Peter Goldsmith, came to his decision that military action would be legal - much advice to the contrary was ignored.

Witnesses have also spoken of Tony Blair's style of governing – in which he kept top level discussions to within a small, trusted group, while avoiding regular debates on the possibility of military action at cabinet level.

Few new facts

But some say few new facts have emerged from the hearings.

Three UK soldiers walking in Iraq

Britain committed around 45,000 troops to the 2003 invasion

"We're going to come up with a narrative, which most of us had formed in 2003, which was that Tony Blair very early on made the decision that it was in the UK's national interest to side with America, and really most of the things we have seen at the inquiry point to this as well," Ian Dunt, editor of the website politics.co.uk, told Deutsche Welle.

This may be of little consolation for the anti-war protesters who've gathered regularly at the inquiry's public hearings, or for those who lost relatives in the Iraq War.

But having cost millions of pounds in public funds, the inquiry will want to come up with some substantive lessons for the future when it submits its findings.

Speaking at the final public hearing, its chairman, former civil servant John Chilcot, refused to put a deadline on when he would publish his report, but he did say that he expected it to take several months to complete.

Author: Olly Barratt, London / pfd
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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