British PM faces Iraq inquiry backlash

LONDON - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced a backlash Saturday over his testimony to a public inquiry into the Iraq war as ex-military chiefs questioned his claims that the army was adequately funded.
Brown told the inquiry on Friday that it had been "the right decision" for Britain to invade Iraq alongside the United States in 2003 and claimed that as finance minister he had provided sufficient funds for the military fight.

Gordon Brown arrives at the Chilcot Inquiry (AFP/Carl Court)
Gordon Brown arrives at the Chilcot Inquiry (AFP/Carl Court)
But the head of the Armed Forces at the time of the 2003 invasion accused Brown of being "disingenuous" in saying that he provided military chiefs with everything they had asked for.
"He's dissembling, he's being disingenuous," Admiral Lord Boyce, the chief of the defence staff up to the start of the invasion, told The Times newspaper.
"It's just not the case that the Ministry of Defence was given everything it needed. There may have been a 1.5 percent increase in the defence budget but the MoD was starved of funds."
Lord Charles Guthrie, the head of Britain's armed forces from 1997 to 2001, meanwhile said Brown had been "economical with the truth" in his testimony to the inquiry, headed by former senior civil servant John Chilcot.
As finance minister, Brown had been unsympathetic to the defence ministry, Guthrie wrote in Saturday's edition of The Sun tabloid.
"He was throwing money at other departments of state, while giving us as little as he could get away with."
The Sun, which backs the opposition Conservatives, called the prime minister's performance a "Brownwash".
"For all his bluster, Mr Brown is not off the hook," Britain's biggest-selling daily said.
"He may have bamboozled the dopey Chilcot Inquiry. But in the court of public opinion, he still has serious questions to answer."
While Brown had on Friday distanced himself from military moves or diplomatic negotiations in the run-up to the conflict, he said he had always been fully informed and did everything required of him.
Another right-wing newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, said Brown's evidence "was less about learning lessons from Iraq than absolving himself of any blame."
The Financial Times said that the inquiry, "rather than distancing Mr Brown from the war, has implicated him in it -- and raised questions about his character.
"His inability to admit to mistakes is disconcerting, as is his abdication of responsibility."
Brown's appearance before the Chilcot inquiry in London was politically sensitive, coming just weeks before a general election expected on May 6.
The conflict, which left 179 British soldiers dead, remains a divisive issue here.
Much of the British responsibility for the US-led war has been laid on Tony Blair, who was prime minister at the time of the invasion and who appeared at the inquiry in January.
"Nobody wants to go to war, nobody wants to see innocent people die," Brown told the inquiry. But he added: "I think it was the right decision and made for the right reasons."
And he insisted he had met all requests for extra resources.
"At any point military commanders were able to ask for equipment that they needed and I know of no occasion when they were turned down for it," he said.
Brown said the war cost about eight billion pounds (12 billion dollars, 8.9 billion euros) overall, on top of an increasing defence budget.
Brown admitted he was not at some key meetings Blair held in the run-up to war, but said he was fully briefed on the case against Saddam and on advice about the war's legality.
"I did not feel at any point that I lacked the information that was necessary, that I was denied any information that was required," he said.
But the left-leaning Guardian newspaper was not convinced.
An editorial in the daily said he answered every question except the big one: why he did "not take a stand against the war".
And it added: "His claim to have been a supportive chancellor to the services is borne out neither by the sums nor by the military's experience."

Sunday, March 7th 2010

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