Tony Blair, seen here at the United Nations New York headquarters, says… (Chris Hondros / Getty Images )
Reporting from London — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he would have found a justification for invading Iraq even without the now-discredited evidence that Saddam Hussein was trying to produce weapons of mass destruction.
"I would still have thought it right to remove him. I mean, obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat," Blair told the BBC in an interview to be broadcast this morning.
It was a startling admission from the onetime British leader, who was President Bush's staunchest ally in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
Blair's comments were immediately denounced by critics who accused him of using false pretenses to drag Britain into an unpopular war that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of allied troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
Speaking to broadcaster Fern Britton, Blair insisted that ousting Hussein had improved the situation in Iraq by laying the foundation for a more democratic country. He described the upcoming Iraqi elections as "probably the single most significant thing that's happened to that region for many years."
"I can't really think we'd be better with him and his two sons still in charge," Blair said of Hussein.
But he added that he could "totally understand" why others opposed the invasion. Hundreds of thousands of people across Europe, including tens of thousands in Britain, joined protests before the U.S.-led invasion.
"I sympathize with the people who were against it for perfectly good reasons and who are against it now," Blair said. "But for me, you know, in the end I had to take the decision."
The interview comes just a few weeks after Britain launched an inquiry in the decision to go to war. Blair is expected to appear before the inquiry committee early in the new year.
The committee has already heard statements from former government officials who said that Blair was willing to join Bush in toppling Hussein with or without the argument that the Iraqi dictator was developing weapons of mass destruction.
The weapons claim was the primary justification for the war, but it proved untrue.
Hans Blix, who led the United Nations team of inspectors looking into the claim, said that Blair's remarks gave "the strong impression of a lack of sincerity."
"The war was sold on the weapons of mass destruction [argument], and now you . . . hear that it was only a question of a 'deployment of arguments,' " Blix told the BBC.
"It sounds a bit like a fig leaf that was held up, and if the fig leaf had not been there, then they would have tried to put another fig leaf there."