LONDON – Dogged by questions over his government's use of intelligence ahead of the war in Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) insisted Wednesday that Britain had been right to help depose Saddam Hussein.
Blair, who for weeks has faced accusations of exaggerating the threat of weapons of mass destruction (search) to bolster the case for military action, said he stood by intelligence published by the government.
"No, I do not accept that people were misled at all," said the prime minister, who raised his voice above heckling and jeering in a rambunctious session of the House of Commons.
"When we reflect on Resolution 1441 (search) where there was a United Nations view unanimously that weapons of mass destruction were a threat to the world, where we see Iraq getting its governing council on a broadly representative basis for the first time in decades and that we know, according to the U.N. there are some 300,000 missing people and 80 mass graves then I happen to believe we still did the right thing," he added.
It was a combative performance in Blair's final weekly question and answer session before Parliament's summer recess.
The row over the quality of intelligence on Iraq has made the last few weeks the most taxing for Blair since he took office in 1997.
Two parliamentary committees are looking into the government's use of intelligence information in two dossiers published to bolster the case for war. The committees have looked closely at two issues: a claim that Iraq was capable of deploying some chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes, and the claim that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium in Niger.
Blair said Wednesday it was "not beyond the bounds of possibility" that Iraq had sought uranium in the West African country, where it had purchased tons of the substance in the 1980s.
President Bush included the claim in his State of the Union address, saying: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The Bush administration has since said the Niger claim should not have been included in the speech in January as it fell short of the standards necessary for a presidential address.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the U.N. Security Council in March that "a number of states" had given the agency documents relating to the reported Iraq-Niger connection, but those documents were "not authentic." He did not identify the nations that supplied the documentation.
On Wednesday, Blair denied that the forged documents came from Britain and said the government had independent intelligence on the Iraq-Niger link.
"It's not as if this link between Niger and Iraq was some invention of the CIA or Britain," said Blair. "We know in the 1980s that Iraq purchased from Niger over 270 tons of uranium, and therefore it is not beyond the bounds of possibility -- let's at least put it like this -- that they went back to Niger again."
Michael Ancram, a Conservative lawmaker, again called for an independent judicial inquiry on the government's use of intelligence. He attacked a second dossier, published in February, that contained material plagiarized from a 12-year-old graduate thesis on the Internet.
"It's a mess of the government's own making through incomplete information, through unattributable briefings, through half truths, through pathetic smoke screens," said Ancram.