Mr. Blair’s recall to clarify evidence he offered in a hearing last January follows contradictory claims made to the five-person inquiry panel by key officials, diplomats and military officers.

Britain?s ex-prime minister Tony Blair was making a humbling return to the country?s inquiry into the Iraq war on Friday, after witnesses raised doubts about sections of his testimony from a year ago - when he made a defiant defence of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Blair?s recall to clarify evidence he offered in a hearing last January follows contradictory claims made to the five-person inquiry panel by key officials, diplomats and military officers.

Britain?s leader between 1997 and 2007 will be pressed on suggestions he falsely accused France of sinking efforts to agree a United Nations resolution specifically approving military action, and on evidence from spy chiefs who said they doubted Iraq was harbouring weapons of mass destruction ? Mr. Blair?s key justification for conflict.

?The decision I took - and frankly would take again - was, if there was any possibility that he (Hussein) could develop weapons of mass destruction, we would stop him,? Mr. Blair told the panel in his previous session. ?It was my view then and that is my view now.?

Outside, a small number of protesters gathered for a demonstration against Mr. Blair ahead of the session at London?s Queen Elizabeth II conference centre.

Critics have long accused Mr. Blair - now envoy to the Quartet of Middle East Peacemakers - of pledging slavish support to then-U.S. President George W. Bush, and misleading Britain on the need to join the conflict.

?Evidence has now emerged showing Mr. Blair lied to the public and Parliament about the legality of an attack on Iraq. Finally it has been confirmed that the war in Iraq was criminal as well as catastrophic,? said Chris Nineham, from Britain?s Stop the War campaign group.

The atmosphere ahead of Mr. Blair?s appearance has already been soured after it was confirmed on Tuesday that British authorities had refused to publish notes Blair sent to Bush ahead of the conflict.

Inquiry chairman John Chilcot has publicly denounced the decision by Cabinet Secretary Gus O?Donnell, Britain?s most senior government official, to withhold the correspondence on the grounds that publication ?would be likely to damage the U.K.?s international relations.?

Transcripts released over recent days of a small number of hearings the inquiry has held in private also detailed concerns of Britain?s ex-top legal official over statements Mr. Blair made about the legality of the war.

Peter Goldsmith, attorney general between 2001 and 2007, told the inquiry he was uneasy with Blair?s claim that a U.N. resolution specifically authorizing the U.S.-led invasion would not be necessary under certain circumstances.

Having initially expressed doubts to Mr. Blair, Mr. Goldsmith later changed his advice on the legality of the war - paving the way for Britain?s House of Commons to vote to approve the country?s participation.

Much evidence heard since hearings began in November 2009 had focused on accusations that Mr. Blair offered Mr. Bush support for an invasion as early as April 2002 - a year before legislators approved Britain?s involvement.

Friday?s hearing was also expected to challenge Mr. Blair over evidence from Eliza Manningham Buller, the head of domestic spy agency MI5 between 2002 and 2007, on Iraq?s military capability.

She told the panel the belief Iraq might use weapons of mass destruction against the West ?wasn?t a concern in either the short term or the medium term to either my colleagues or myself.?

Mr. Blair may also be pressed on Ms. Manningham-Buller?s claim that the invasion of Iraq had likely provided an impetus to al-Qaeda.

The five-member panel was appointed by the British government to examine the case made for the war and errors in planning for post-conflict reconstruction - but it won?t apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability.

Mr. Chilcot?s panel is expected to offer recommendations by the end of the year.

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