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Brown defends spending during Iraq war

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 05 March 2010

Prime Minister Gordon Brown tells the Iraq inquiry he agreed to meet every request for extra spending from the armed forces during the conflict.

Gordon Brown at the Chilcot inquiry into the war in Iraq

Mr Brown, who was chancellor during the 2003 invasion, was questioned at the Chilcot inquiry following claims that he clamped down on defence spending.

The criticisms come from Lord Guthrie, former chief of the defence staff, Geoff Hoon, former defence secretary, and Sir Kevin Tebbit, who was the top civil servant at the ministry of defence during the war.

In his long-awaited appearance at the QE11 conference centre in London, the prime minister said the defence budget had risen and urgent operational requirements had been met.

He praised the "very fast, quick decisions" that had been made, saying every request for extra funding had been agreed.

There has also been criticism from families of servicemen killed in Iraq that they lacked the equipment that could have saved their lives, and that there was too much reliance on lightly-armoured snatch Land Rovers.

Funding for new vehicles
But Mr Brown said when the MoD asked for new vehicles to protect troops, he agreed to provide £90m to buy Mastiffs and Bulldogs.

He added: "Every request that the military commanders made to us for equipment was answered. No request was ever turned down.

"And I would add to that, so long as I have been prime minister, I have always asked the military at the point at which they are undertaking any new operation, can they assure me that they have the equipment that they need for the task that they are undertaking.

"And at every point the answer to the question is, 'for the operation we are undertaking, we have the equipment and we have the resources that are necessary'.

"I don't believe that any prime minister would sent our troops into conflict without the assurance from the military that they had the equipment necessary for the operations.

"And I do not believe that there was any request that was made for equipment during the course of these events in Iraq that was turned down."

No "financial restraint"
Mr Brown said he made it clear to Tony Blair before the invasion that there would be no "financial restraint".
The prime minister said he had talked to Mr Blair and Mr Hoon about the possibility of military action from June 2002.

He said: "I said immediately to the prime minister that the military options that were under discussion, there should be no sense that there was a financial restraint that prevented us doing what was best for the military.

"I told him that I would not, and this was right at the beginning, I would not try to rule out any military option on the grounds of cost, quite the opposite."

The military chiefs had never been snubbed when they asked for money for Iraq.

"I know of no occasion when they were turned down for it."

But Mr Brown defended the line he had taken with the MoD in 2003, when the department said it had achieved savings of £1.3bn that it intended to spend on new equipment.

He said there was no proof that the savings had been achieved and that if other departments followed suit it would have affected the public finances.

"The Ministry of Defence were planning to spend 9 per cent additional cash that year. They had been allocated 3.6 per cent.

"If we had had every department doing what the Ministry of Defence was doing, we would have had the extra cost of £12bn, which would be the equivalent of raising income tax by 3p in the pound."

But even with these curbs, the MoD had been left with more money than envisaged in the 2002 spending review.

Mr Brown agreed that the war had cost Britain £9.2bn.

Regrets over planning
And he said one of his regrets was the failure to push the US on the need for preparations for reconstruction in Iraq.

He had offered to send a discussion paper to Washington on the importance of involving the international community - the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations - in the reconstruction.

"It was one of my regrets that I wasn't able to be more successful in pushing the Americans on this issue, that the planning for reconstruction was essential, just the same as planning for the war.

"I wish it had been possible to follow it through much more quickly in the aftermath."

What happened after the Iraq invasion showed how vital it was that a new international agency was set up to deal with reconstruction in war-torn countries.

"There will be other states, rogue states that need to change and we need to ensure civilian support as well as military support to do what's necessary when a broken state has to be rebuilt."

Right to invade
The prime minister, who offered to appear before the election at the inquiry, gave his backing to the decision to invade Iraq.

"It was the right decision and it was for the right reasons."

But he acknowledged the deaths that had resulted and paid tribute to the "sacrifice" of British troops.

"Any loss of life is something that makes us very sad indeed."

"Serial violator"
Before the war, he was convinced Saddam Hussein - a "serial violator of international law" - posed a serious threat, but he had hoped until the last moment that diplomacy would make military action unnecessary.

"I met the intelligence services on a number of occasions during the course of 2002 and early 2003.

"I was given information by the intelligence services which led me to believe that Iraq was a threat and had to be dealt with by the actions of the international community.

"What we wanted was a diplomatic route to succeed. Right up to the last minute, right up to the last weekend, I think many of us were hopeful that the diplomatic route would succeed."

Mr Brown said the cabinet had been kept informed about Iraq ahead of the invasion.

"I cannot see the argument that says the cabinet were not informed. We were informed fully about the process of the negotiations."

He had also held separate meetings with Mr Blair and "didn't at any point (feel) that I lacked the information that was necessary."

His job as chancellor "was to make sure that the funding was there for what we had to do".

He was asked if he had seen letters Mr Blair sent to former US President George Bush and said he had not.

"I would not expect to see private letters between Mr Blair and the president."

He said he had received several intelligence briefings before the war, starting in March 2002 and ending in February 2003, a month before the invasion.

It was now clear, after the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, that the intelligence services needed to be "more sure" of the information they receive.

"The information I was given was that there was evidence that was known to many countries, not just our country, about the weaponry that the Iraqi government held.

"And, of course, at that time there was a greater certainty amongst the intelligence community that this weaponry was there.

"I think we have learned that intelligence can give us insights into what is happening, but we have got to be more sure, as people have recognised, about the nature of the intelligence we were receiving from certain people."

At the end of his appearance, the prime minister was asked if he had anything else to say. When Mr Blair was asked this in January, he pointedly said no. But Mr Brown used the opportunity to praise the work of the armed forces, "who are the best and most professional in the world".

He said: "We have got to recognise that war may be necessary, but it is also tragic in the effect it has on people's lives.

"These were difficult decisions, these were decisions that required judgment, these were decisions that required strong leadership, these were decisions that were debated and divided a lot of opinion in the country.

"I believe they were the right decisions for the right reasons, but I also believe it is our duty to learn the lessons from what has happened.

"I want to end up emphasising that the soldiers and civilians who gave their lives in Iraq, they deserve both our sympathy and our debt of gratitude.

"No-one who makes the decisions that cabinets and governments have to make can do so without recognising that lives are affected and sometimes lives are lost as a result of the big decisions and the big challenges we have got to meet."

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