Tony Blair on Friday delivered a robust defence of his controversial 2003 decision to join the invasion of Iraq, arguing that the assessment of the risk posed by “rogue states” changed dramatically after the September 11 attacks on the US.

“If September 11 had not happened, our assessment would have been different. But after September 11, our view and that of the Americans changed, and changed dramatically,” the former British prime minister said during his eagerly awaited hearing at the Iraq War Inquiry in London.

He had concluded that “no risks” could be taken with this new dimension of the terrorist threat, which was different from previous “political” forms of terrorism.

“Up to September 11, we thought he (Saddam Hussein) was a risk, but we thought it was worth trying to contain it. Crucially, after September 11, the calculus of risk changed,” said Mr. Blair.

“From that moment on, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Iraq ... all of that had to be brought to an end,” said Mr. Blair. He described Saddam as a “monster” and said he still believed today that it was right to prevent “rogue states” from being allowed to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). “I believed beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein had WMDs,” said Mr. Blair. “I believe the intelligence was compelling and we had to act on it.” He was aware of the possible negative implications of military action for relations with the “Muslim and Arab world,” said Mr. Blair.

“My decision was that you cannot afford to have this situation go on.” Mr. Blair said he still believed today that his decision to back the US by providing 40,000 British troops for the invasion was right and said he was in “absolute” agreement with former US President George W Bush on the issue.

“If you believe it’s right, you should be prepared to play your role fully,” Mr. Blair told the five-member inquiry panel. Outside, several hundred anti-war protesters shouted “Blair, war criminal” and “Tony to jail” while holding up posters branding the former leader a “liar.” Mr. Blair, who as prime minister authorized Britain joining the US in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, arrived early for his much-anticipated six-hour questioning session in an apparent attempt to avoid protesters and media outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall in central London.

The government-appointed Iraq inquiry has no legal powers, but is an attempt to “reveal the truth” behind the planning, execution and aftermath of the 2003 invasion.

A string of senior government, intelligence and military officials have so far given evidence which, while not revealing new facts, has cast doubt on the official version of events and decisions taken in the run-up to the invasion.

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