Blair Denies Misleading U.K. on War

Published September 29, 2004

| Associated Press

Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) on Wednesday denied leading Britain into war on false grounds, despite intelligence on the threat posed by Iraq being wrong.

In his speech to his Labour Party's annual conference Tuesday, Blair acknowledged that intelligence suggesting Saddam Hussein (search) had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons was unsound.

However, in an interview Wednesday with the British Broadcasting Corp. (search), Blair said he did not think the "basis upon of U.N. resolutions, a long history of U.N. inspections not working."

With national elections widely expected in May, the five-day party conference was intended as a springboard for new policies and a chance to reunite the party to fight for a third term in office.

In his speech Tuesday, Blair came closer than ever before to apologizing for the misleading prewar intelligence about Iraq.

"I can apologize for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can't, sincerely at least, apologize for removing Saddam," he said.

But the apology did not go as far as some had anticipated. Briefing evening newspapers whose deadline fell before Tuesday's speech, Blair aides said the prime minister would say: "I know this issue has divided the country, I am genuinely sorry about that, and I understand why many disagree."

But in his address Blair did not use the phrase "I am genuinely sorry," prompting consternation among some newspapers. The Guardian said "frantic last-minute rewriting" had watered down the speech.

Labour lawmaker Jeremy Corbyn, a vocal critic of the war, said Wednesday that Blair had issued a "halfhearted apology."

"The buzz around the conference this morning is that it was not enough," he told The Associated Press. "Tony Blair has got an awful lot more apologizing to do."

Also Wednesday, some 250 anti-war protesters rallied outside the conference center, bearing placards reading "Bliar."

Among the marchers was an 11-year-old Iraqi girl, Zeynab Hamid Taresh, who said she lost her right leg and 17 family members in bombing at the start of the war near Basra.

"If Tony Blair was in front of me now, I would tell him to get out of Iraq," she said, speaking through a translator. "Tony Blair and his government should get out of Iraq like Saddam Hussein and his sons. They say the war is over, but there are still explosions, and it is much more dangerous," said Taresh, who is in Britain learning how to use her prosthetic leg.

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