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Britain, Netherlands probe Iraq war

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by Staff Writers
London (UPI) Jan 12, 2009
George W. Bush did not have to talk Tony Blair into sending troops to take part in the Iraq war, Blair's former spokesman said Tuesday, just as a Dutch inquiry concluded the war had no legal basis.

Alastair Campbell, Blair's former spin doctor, told a British inquiry probing the controversial military campaign that Blair's position on Iraq was not shifted by Bush at a summit at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in 2002. Such an assessment given by former British Ambassador to the United States Christopher Meyer last week was misleading, Campbell said.

Blair's "instinct was that we should be with the Americans. Does that mean that you tailor your policy to suit theirs? No," Campbell said. In the end, the former British prime minister simply "shared the analysis, he shared the concerns, he shared the objectives -- the disarmament of Saddam Hussein."

Bush did not shift Blair's position nor did he mention a military strike at the Crawford meeting, Campbell added.

"The context that I am trying to give you is not that George Bush is saying to Tony Blair, 'We have got to go to war.' It was not like that at all," he said.

Instead, Blair pushed Washington to include the United Nations in the conflict, Campbell said.

"We were keen all the time to emphasize the importance of the U.N.," he said. "The American attitude is somewhat lukewarm to the U.N., to put it mildly."

Campbell said Blair right up to the eve of the war hoped that the crisis could be "peacefully resolved" but also wrote Bush in several notes that Britain would be there if a military option was the only resolution to the crisis.

A former journalist, Campbell was the British government's spokesman from 1997 to 2003 and because of his close relationship with Blair enjoyed deep insights into the inner circles of diplomacy.

Former Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will testify before the inquiry next week. Blair is expected to be questioned at a later date.

Current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who Campbell said was a key member of Blair's inner consultation circle regarding the war, will not give evidence until after the British elections in May. The inquiry's findings are due to be published early next year.

Meanwhile, a Dutch inquiry Tuesday published its own assessment of the Iraq war. It concluded that the military campaign was not justified by U.N. resolution 1441 mentioned by the United States, Britain and the Netherlands as a legal basis for the war.

The resolution called for serious consequences if Saddam Hussein did not disarm his military, but the inquiry concluded: "Despite the existence of certain ambiguities, the wording of Resolution 1441 cannot reasonably be interpreted ... as authorizing individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council's resolutions, without authorization from the Security Council. … The military action had no sound mandate under international law."

Led by the former top judge of the Dutch Supreme Court, the inquiry board cleared the government of Jan Peter Balkenende of providing active military support to the war. The inquiry board said it did not find evidence supporting rumors that Dutch special forces marched with U.S. troops into Iraq in March 2003.

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