British PM under fire for Iraq war defence

 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came under fire Saturday for the way he defended his role in the 2003 Iraq invasion, with some commentators saying he had slipped off the hook.

Brown told a public inquiry Friday it was "the right decision" to go into Iraq and rejected claims he denied funds for the military fight when he was finance minister.

While he distanced himself from military moves or diplomatic negotiations in the run-up to the conflict, he said he had always been fully informed and did everything required of him as chancellor under former premier Tony Blair.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrives at the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq War in central London

But Lord Charles Guthrie, the head of Britain's armed forces from 1997 to 2001, said Brown had been "economical with the truth" and "disingenuous" in his testimony to the inquiry, headed by former senior civil servant John Chilcot.

"The problems of being badly equipped in Afghanistan and Iraq began a long time ago, when he was chancellor and unsympathetic to the Ministry of Defence," Guthrie wrote in The Sun tabloid.

"He was throwing money at other departments of state, while giving us as little as he could get away with."

Newspapers analysed the performance of both the prime minister and the inquiry panel. The Sun, which backs the opposition Conservatives, called it a "Brownwash".

"For all his bluster, Mr Brown is not off the hook. He may have bamboozled the dopey Chilcot Inquiry. But in the court of public opinion, he still has serious questions to answer," Britain's biggest-selling daily said.

Another right-wing newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, said Brown's evidence "was less about learning lessons from Iraq than absolving himself of any blame."

The Financial Times said that the inquiry, "rather than distancing Mr Brown from the war, has implicated him in it -- and raised questions about his character.

"His inability to admit to mistakes is disconcerting, as is his abdication of responsibility."

Brown's appearance before the Chilcot inquiry in London was politically sensitive, coming just weeks before a general election expected on May 6.Related article;Britian fears hung parliament as polls narrow

The conflict, which left 179 British soldiers dead, remains a divisive issue here.

Much of the British responsibility for the US-led war has been laid on Blair, who appeared at the inquiry in January.

Brown however has faced claims that as finance minister he failed to fund the armed forces properly.

"Nobody wants to go to war, nobody wants to see innocent people die," Brown said. But he added: "I think it was the right decision and made for the right reasons."

Britain hoped "right up to the last minute" to tackle the threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein through the United Nations, he said.

And he insisted he had met all requests for extra resources.

"At any point military commanders were able to ask for equipment that they needed and I know of no occasion when they were turned down for it," he said.

Brown said the war cost about eight billion pounds (12 billion dollars, 8.9 billion euros) overall, on top of an increasing defence budget.

Brown admitted he was not at some key meetings Blair held in the run-up to war, but said he was fully briefed on the intelligence that helped build the case against Saddam and on advice about the war's legality.

"I did not feel at any point that I lacked the information that was necessary, that I was denied any information that was required," he said.

Brown admitted "regrets" about planning the reconstruction of post-war Iraq but laid much of the blame on US president George W. Bush's administration.

He criticised the "neo-conservative proposition that somehow, at the barrel of a gun, overnight liberty or democracy could be conjured up".

Where Blair concluded his inquiry hearing with a defiant claim to having "no regrets" about the war, Brown paid tribute to the soldiers and Iraqi civilians who died.

"The loss of life is something that makes us all sad," he said.

The inquiry is being conducted to identify lessons that can be learned from the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent war.

It is examining the period from mid-2001 to the end of July 2009, when British troops formally pulled out of southern Iraq.

source AFP

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