LONDON — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he would have found another 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 today.
It was a startling admission from the onetime British leader, who was former President George W. Bush's staunchest ally in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
Blair's comments were denounced immediately 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 thousands of Iraqi civilians.
Speaking to broadcaster Fern Britton, Blair insisted that ousting Hussein 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, had protested plans to launch the war.
The interview with Blair comes just a few weeks after Britain launched an inquiry into the decision to go to war. Blair is expected to appear before the inquiry committee early in the new year.
The committee has heard statements from former government officials that Blair was willing to join Bush in toppling Hussein with or without the claim that the Iraqi dictator was developing weapons of mass destruction.
The WMD 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."
Oil deals: The Iraqi government approved 10 contracts at auctions that concluded Saturday. The deals the Iraqi Oil Ministry reached suggest that Chinese, Russian and European oil firms are poised to play a major role in refurbishing Iraq's oil industry. Exxon-Mobil and Occidental Petroleum Inc. were the only American companies that reached deals with the ministry. Chevron and ConocoPhillips, which have cultivated close ties with the Iraqi Oil Ministry and provided technical advice in recent years, walked away empty-handed. Top stakeholders now are Russian companies Lukoil and Gazprom; state-owned Chinese National Petroleum Corp. and a consortium of Royal Dutch Shell and Petronas of Malaysia.