British PM under fire for Iraq war defence

LONDON, March 6, (AFP) -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.

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.

Gordon Brown

As finance minister, Brown had been unsympathetic to the defence ministry, 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.”The Sun, which backs the opposition Conservatives, called the prime minister's performance a “Brownwash”.

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

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 had 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.”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 case against Saddam and on advice about the war's legality.

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