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No cost restraint, Brown tells Iraq inquiry

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 05 March 2010

Prime Minister Gordon tells the Iraq inquiry he made it clear to Tony Blair before the invasion that there would be no "financial restraint" on military action.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the Iraq inquiry (credit:Reuters)

The inquiry has heard claims that in the year of the invasion, 2003, Mr Brown imposed cuts on the defence budget when he was chancellor.

But in his long-awaited appearance in front of the inquiry, the prime minister said he had talked to Mr Blair and former Defence Secretary Geoff 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."

He added that 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," he said.

Mr Brown 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, he said.

'Right reasons'

The prime minister, who offered to appear before the election at the inquiry at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London, 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."

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."

Cabinet information

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."

WMD intelligence

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."

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