On the BBC, Blair declared it didn't matter, "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." Henry Chu (Los Angeles Times) observes, "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 thousands of Iraqi civilians." Andrew Gilligan (Telegraph of London) points out:
Blair's remarkable pre-emptive strike comfortably overshadows anything so far said to Sir John Chilcot. It goes to the very nub of the issue Sir John is considering: was the war necessary, and was the prime minister's official justification, weapons of mass destruction, merely a pretext for something decided long before?
Mr Blair's statement that he wanted rid of Saddam all along, and would simply have "deploy[ed] different arguments" to do so in the absence of WMD, is his clearest admission to date that the famous weapons were indeed a pretext. His belief that a war on Iraq would have been necessary even without WMD is both significant – and highly questionable.
It even threatens to make parts of Chilcot's work redundant. Forget Sir John's painstaking investigations into when the decision to go to war was taken, and all his evidential trudges round the exact phraseology of the WMD claims. Tony Blair has come out today and said, OK, I hold up my hands – and you know what, you can all go to blazes.
Meanwhile Simon Webb (Reuters) reports the two smallest oil fields up for bid -- Qayara and Najmah -- in Iraq went to Sonangol, Angola's state oil company. Timothy Williams (New York Times) adds:
While ExxonMobil and other American-based oil companies registered for the auction, none came away with a development deal on Friday or Saturday. But both ExxonMobil and California-based Occidental Petroleum are part of groups that have recently won oil field development deals in Iraq.
In his article, Williams also notes closed door testimony to Parliament today that we'll ignore for now due to the fact that the witness in question had stipulated that he would only give testimony in a public hearing. Meanwhile the UN Secretary-General's Special Represnstative to Iraq, Ad Melkert, spoke with the Kurdistan Alliance Bloc about various issues today. The UN notes:
In today's meeting, both sides stressed the importance of gathering census data in 2010 to support long term planning for the rebuilding and prosperity of Iraq, agreeing that the census data should be used for the development of proper civil and voter registries.
Mr. Melkert also underscored the international community's commitment to providing the necessary support to Government institutions conducting the census.
In addition, he voiced willingness to meet with the officials of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to continue discussing issues between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, including Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which deals with conditions for holding a referendum in the region regarding its geographical make up.
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