LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair (search), facing the prospect of another potentially critical report on Britain's participation in the war in Iraq, insisted Tuesday he made the right decision and denied it was based on bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.
The question was whether the report, to be released Wednesday, would blame an overall intelligence failure, or hold Blair accountable.
Asked by reporters whether he had been misled by bad intelligence, Blair replied: "I don't accept that at all." The world, he said, was "better, safer, more secure" with Saddam Hussein (search) out of power.
Blair received the report Tuesday, and told reporters he wouldn't comment on it until it was made public 24 hours later.
The prime minister's supporters hope the investigation led by Lord Butler (search), a retired aide to five prime ministers, will echo last week's U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report and fault structures and processes rather than individuals.
The Senate report said most of the CIA's claims about Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear arsenal were overstated or unsupported. It noted that the United States was not alone in its beliefs, citing a "global intelligence failure."
Blair's opponents, including some who supported the war, are looking for part of the blame to fall on him.
"Tony Blair should admit that he was wrong about the size, scope and capacity of Iraq's WMD arsenal," Charles Kennedy, leader of the anti-war Liberal Democrats, said Tuesday.
"He could apologize for misleading the people and Parliament," Kennedy added.
Opponents of the war hope Butler's report shows the government pressured intelligence chiefs to exaggerate Saddam's weapons capability. Three previous inquiries have cleared the government of that charge, but Blair's popularity has been hammered by the continuing violence in Iraq and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.
He has also disillusioned left-wing supporters with his welfare and education reforms, and his strongest assets -- his image of good judgment and truthfulness -- have suffered from his rationale for going to war.
Last week, Blair conceded "we may not find" weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "They could have been removed, they could have been hidden, they could have been destroyed."
Yet despite intense media speculation about Blair's future, his Labour Party is ahead in the polls, commands a huge parliamentary majority and is unlikely to face elections for about another year. Inflation and unemployment are low, and Blair is in no worse a position than other British prime ministers midway through a second term.
Still, some Labour members worry the war has made him an electoral liability, and there are constant reports of tension between Blair and Treasury chief Gordon Brown. Blair's supporters have accused the media of whipping up resignation rumors and insist Blair intends to win and complete another term in office.
Some news reports suggested Butler would censure John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which had overall authority for drafting a disputed September 2002 dossier on Iraqi weapons.
The Financial Times newspaper Website said the report will criticize Scarlett's committee, saying it did not test raw intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction sufficiently. But it will say Scarlett's promotion to head of MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence service, later this year, should still go ahead.
"We realize this will lead to calls for John Scarlett not to serve as head of MI6. We greatly hope this will not be the case because we have a very high regard for him," the paper quotes the report as saying, without giving the source of its information.
On Tuesday, Blair's office said he had full confidence in Scarlett.
The Butler inquiry, announced by the government in February, was supposed to be bipartisan, but the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats stayed away, saying Butler's mandate -- to examine "structures, systems and processes" rather than the actions of individual officials -- was too narrow.
Butler and his five-member team interviewed spy chiefs and reportedly took evidence from former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.
Previous investigations have cleared the government of misusing intelligence in its 2002 dossier, but many lawmakers -- including Conservatives who supported the war -- remain troubled.
In the House of Commons last Thursday, Tory home affairs spokesman David Davis asked: "Was the intelligence changed in order to persuade the public that Iraq was an imminent threat when it seems now that that may not have been the case?"