Reporting from London — Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the first serving British government minister to give evidence to an independent inquiry on Iraq, on Thursday defended his part in the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.
It was "the most difficult decision I have ever faced in my life," Straw, now justice minister, said in a memo released just before the Iraq Inquiry session began, in which he outlined his reasons for reluctantly supporting the war.
"I believed at the time, and I still believe, that we made the best judgments we could have done in the circumstances," Straw said in the written statement, which was presented as evidence. "We did so assiduously and on the best evidence we had available at the time."
In three hours of testimony, Straw, who served as foreign secretary from 2001 to '06 under then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, told the five-member panel of historians and government officials that he would have preferred diplomacy rather than military action.
Straw said he had expressed ideas for nonmilitary support of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but never formally discussed them with Cabinet colleagues.
His support of war, he said, was based on intelligence sources, reports from chief international weapons inspector Hans Blix that Iraq was not revealing chemical and biological weapons labs, and Iraq's refusal to proffer all its scientists for interviews.
Legally, he said, the case for invasion "stood or fell on whether Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security, by reasons of its weapons . . . not whether it had an . . . unpleasant authoritarian regime . . . butchering its own people."
Straw said the conviction that Iraq could unleash weapons of mass destruction on short notice as outlined in a September 2002 government dossier was "an error . . . which has haunted us ever since."
In his memo, however, he summed up that if inspections had proceeded without an ultimatum, "the unresolved disarmament questions would have remained unresolved, and the Iraqi regime would have been re-emboldened."
Stobart is a news assistant in The Times' London Bureau.