Blair 'risked British lives to help out Bush'

The sister of Margaret Hassan, the aid worker who was kidnapped and murdered in Iraq, yesterday accused Tony Blair of risking the lives of British forces to help the former US President George Bush.

Deidre Manchanda asked the Chilcot panel, which will hold an inquiry into the Iraq war, to investigate why 650 British troops were deployed to Baghdad in 2004, a place far more dangerous than their base in Basra, just before the US elections. "I want the committee to ask for what political reasons Mr Blair was being asked to do this by George Bush," she said.

What happened to Ms Hassan, who had lived in Baghdad for decades with her Iraqi husband, led to shock even in a city experiencing daily and savage violence. Her friends blamed the US-led occupation forces for helping to create a state of anarchy in which the aid worker, who held British and Irish nationality and was highly popular in the community, could be abducted.

Ms Manchanda was one of a number of bereaved relatives who spoke to the inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, and his panel before the start of official hearings. Sir John said he wanted to know what those who served in Iraq and the relatives of those who had died there believed he should focus on and to hear their concerns. Iraq war veterans will have their say today.

Lieutenant Colonel Colin Mildinhall, a retired senior Army officer whose son Tom was killed in Basra in 2006, declared that the British people had been "lied to... and badly let down" by Mr Blair's government in the run-up to the war, the legality of which of he questioned. Referring to the claim about weapons of mass destruction being ready to deploy in 45 minutes, he said: "I would particularly like the Iraq inquiry to look at the whole representation of intelligence, how it was used or misused in the approach to this war.

"I believe this country has been badly let down and been lied to. I would like to see some accountability... The prime concern I have is over the legality of the war to start with."

Kellie Merritt, the widow of Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel, who died when his RAF Hercules was shot down in the worst single fatal incident for British forces during the conflict, asked the inquiry to look at why troops were sent to the war ill-prepared and without adequate protection. She said that her husband's unit, 47 Squadron, had been "poorly resourced" with a "very heavy" workload. "There should be some political responsibility for the commitment of our forces to action."

Sir John told the families that each member of the panel was independent of government and approached their task with "completely open minds".

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