Blair's reputation on line as he faces Iraq inquiry
FORMER British Prime Minister Tony Blair will today appear before an inquiry into the Iraq war with his personal reputation, as well as that of the Labour government, at stake.
The decision to send 45,000 British troops to invade Iraq in 2003 was the most controversial of Blair's 10-year premiership, provoking huge protests, divisions within his Labour party, and accusations he had deceived the public over his reasons for war.
Seven years after the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, and almost three years after Blair handed over power to Gordon Brown, the issue still provokes anger. Families of some of the 179 soldiers killed in Iraq will join an anti-war demonstration outside the building, calling for Blair to be considered a war criminal.
Some Labour leaders fear the inquiry, and especially Blair's appearance, will reignite strong feelings on the issue among voters, denting support for a party already trailing the Conservatives in polls in the run-up to an election due in June.
"It's a pivotal day for him, for the British public and for Britain's moral authority in the world," said Anthony Seldon, a political commentator and biographer of Blair.
"This is an enormous day and it goes way beyond him and his own reputation."
The inquiry is likely to focus on the public justification the government gave for war, notably the "dodgy dossier" of September 2002.
Blair said in the dossier that intelligence had "established beyond doubt" that Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
No such weapons were ever found.