LONDON: Tony Blair called for a "gung-ho" approach toward Saddam Hussein's regime, it was revealed yesterday.
The former British prime minister's approach during the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq was revealed in a previously unseen 2002 memo from him to his chief of staff, published by a war inquiry as he made a second appearance before the panel to clarify evidence he gave to it a year ago.
Critics of the war hope the inquiry will conclude Blair had been determined to back the US invasion, whether or not it was supported by the public, parliament or legal opinion.
As Blair addressed the five-member panel scrutinising Britain's role in the unpopular war, activists staged demonstrations against him - holding up signs saying 'Bliar' and 'Blair lied - thousands died'.
A statement he gave to the inquiry revealed he had ignored advice from the government's top lawyer, given in January 2003 warning an invasion of Iraq would be illegal without a specific UN resolution.
Attorney General Peter Goldsmith only changed his mind shortly before the invasion, and Blair said he viewed the earlier advice as "provisional" and believed it would change when Goldsmith became aware of the UN negotiations.
Blair also told the inquiry yesterday that he promised he would back the US in taking action against Saddam almost a year before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In a letter to his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, on March 17, 2002, Blair said "the case should be obvious" for removing the Iraqi leader from power.
Nations that opposed dictatorships and that had supported action in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone "should be gung-ho on Saddam," Blair wrote.
But he acknowledged it would be difficult to convince sceptics. "People believe we are only doing it to support the US, and they are only doing it to settle an old score," he wrote. "So we have to reorder our story and message".