Blair in line for second Iraq war grilling

TONY Blair is to be recalled by the official inquiry into the Iraq war to face new questions about “gaps” in his evidence given earlier this year.

The former Prime Minister is expected to be asked to clarify details about the political build-up to the American-led invasion and the legality of Britain’s participation in the war.

Sir John Chilcot, chairman of the inquiry, will write to Mr Blair next month asking him to appear at a public hearing early in the new year.

Sir John has previously said that his team had been studying tens of thousands of secret government documents which reveal “what really went on” in the build-up to the invasion in March 2003. He said that if the committee found “conflicts or gaps within the evidence” it would recall witnesses.

The committee is also considering recalling some other witnesses before publishing its long-awaited report.

Liam Fox, now the Defence Secretary, asked Sir John to recall Gordon Brown after military chiefs contradicted the evidence of the former Chancellor and Prime Minister about funding and equipment for the Armed Forces.

Mr Blair’s first appearance before the inquiry in January led to a huge security operation and protests from anti-war campaigners outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster. He was heckled by families of some of the 179 British servicemen and women killed in Iraq.

Mr Blair denied suggestions made by other witnesses that he had struck a covert deal to join the Americans in overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

He denied agreeing with President Bush in April 2002 that British forces would to be part of the invasion even if the United Nations failed to pass a new resolution authorising a war.

Mr Blair said he had been “open” about what he had told Mr Bush in private. He also defended his assertion in the Government’s controversial Iraq dossier that intelligence had established “beyond doubt” that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Searches after the invasion established that all such weapons had been destroyed.

The committee is also expected to ask Mr Blair further questions about the legality of the invasion. Two of the Foreign Office’s most senior legal advisers said they warned that the war would break international law.

Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General at the time of the war, told the inquiry that he initially agreed it would be illegal but was persuaded to change his mind just days before the invasion, following a visit to Washington.

Mr Blair said he believed the Attorney-General had come to his view because weapons inspectors had “indicated that Saddam Hussein had not taken a final opportunity to comply” with UN demands.

A month after giving evidence Mr Blair appeared to criticise the Chilcot inquiry, describing it as part of part of a “continual desire to sort of uncover some great conspiracy”.

Asked why the inquiry was being held, he told an American television interviewer: “There’s always got to be a scandal as to why you hold your view. There’s got to be some conspiracy behind it. Some great, you know, deceit that’s gone on, and people just find it hard to understand that it’s possible for people to have different points of view and hold them reasonably for genuine reasons.”

The Chilcot committee finished its public hearings involving more than 140 witnesses at the end of July, has since held private sessions in the US, France and Iraq, and has met British military veterans of the conflict.

A spokeswoman for inquiry refused to discuss if Mr Blair would be recalled, saying that Sir John would make an announcement about his plans within the next month.

“The Iraq Inquiry Committee continues to work hard pulling together and analysing the vast amounts of written and oral evidence it has received and working out where there are gaps and conflicts in this record,” she said. “Based on this, it will then decide whether the inquiry needs to seek further evidence, including through holding public hearings.”

Mr Blair’s spokesman last night refused to comment. However, it is understood that the former Prime Minister will agree to reappear before the committee if requested.

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