Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said in an interview that had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it would have changed his justifications - but not his decision to go to war.
In the six years since the US-led invasion of Iraq, 179 British soldiers have died
In an interview with the BBC, Blair said the US-led invasion was needed to topple Saddam Hussein, who he believed was dangerous even if he did not possess the nuclear, biological or chemical weapons as alleged.
"I would still have thought it right to remove him. Obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments, about the nature of the threat," Blair told the broadcaster in comments released Saturday. The interview for the show "Fern Britton Meets..." airs on Sunday.
Blair said Hussein and his government were "a threat to the region," and that his decision was also influenced by Hussein's willingness to use chemical weapons on "his own people" and by the stalling tactics he used against weapons inspectors.
Comments spark criticism
But Blair's comments have attracted strong criticism. Hans Blix, the head of the UN team that conducted weapons inspections in Iraq before the war, said he thought Blair used WMD as a "convenient justification" for war.
"Saddam's removal was a gain but it's the only gain that I can see from the war," Blix said. The former UN weapons inspector said he believed Blair's statement had a "strong impression of a lack of sincerity."
The peace activism group Stop the War Coalition called Blair's remarks "an admission of war crimes... It is an illegal act of aggression under international law to attack another country for the purposes of regime change."
According to the UK's defense ministry, 179 British soldiers have died in Iraq.
Blair, left, was a major supporter of then-president George W. Bush's war plan
"Legal but questionable"
Blair's statements come ahead of his expected testimony before a public inquiry about Britain's role in the Iraq war between 2001 and 2009. The "Chilcot inquiry," named after a longtime civil servant who is overseeing it, began in November, shortly after almost all of the country's troops were withdrawn from Iraq. Blair is expected to appear as a witness in January.
Britain's former UN ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, testified on Nov. 27 that the US-led invasion in March 2003 was "legal but of questionable legitimacy, in that it didn't have the democratically observable backing of the great majority of member states."
Greenstock said the UN Security Council had passed a resolution in late 2002 that gave Iraq a "final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations," but the council never passed a resolution authorizing the invasion.
Sympathy, but no regrets
The war has also been met with widespread opposition among the British public. Hundreds of thousands of people marched to protest in the run-up to the war in February 2003.
"I sympathize with the people who were against it for perfectly good reasons and are against it now, but for me you know, in the end I had to take the decision," Blair said. "There is no point in going into a situation of conflict and not understanding there is going to be a price paid."
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar