An apology of sorts, but sorry still seems the hardest word

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair finally apologised for the faulty British intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction but refused to say sorry for misleading Parliament about it or for going to war in Iraq.

Tony Blair finally apologised for the faulty British intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction but refused to say sorry for misleading Parliament about it or for going to war in Iraq.

A tetchy Mr Blair was again thrown on to the defensive over Iraq at Prime Minister's Questions, following MI6's decision to withdraw its claim that Iraq could deploy weapons within 45 minutes and last week's report by the Iraq Survey Group saying that Saddam had no WMD.

As he faced difficult questions by Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs, Mr Blair edged closer to the apology demanded by critics of the war but failed to satisfy them. He went further than in his speech to the Labour Party conference two weeks ago, when he said he "could" apologise for the intelligence. Yesterday he said: "I take full responsibility and indeed apologise for any information given in good faith that has subsequently turned out to be wrong."

But the Prime Minister was careful not to use the "S-word" - sorry - apparently fearing headlines that would give the impression he regretted the war. His stance put him at odds with the Cabinet minister, Patricia Hewitt, who said last week that Mr Blair was "very sorry" about the intelligence, and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who said yesterday that the Prime Minister was "very sorry" about "the information issue, the 45-minute issue".

Mr Blair told the Commons: "What I don't in any way accept is that there was any deception of anyone. I will not apologise for removing Saddam Hussein. I will not apologise for the conflict. It was right then, is right now and is essential for the wider security of the region and the world."

The calls for an apology were led by Michael Howard, who told the Prime Minister: "I support the war. It was the right thing to do. But will you realise that before you can move on, there is one matter that you must deal with. You didn't accurately report the intelligence you received to the country. Will you now say sorry for that?"

The Tory leader added: "I didn't ask you to apologise for the war, because I support it. I didn't ask you either to apologise for what you describe as the information. I asked you very specifically about the way you misrepresented the intelligence you received to the country. Why can't you bring yourself now to say sorry for that?"

Mr Blair replied: "I cannot bring myself to say that I misrepresented the evidence, since I don't accept that I did."

Accusing Mr Howard of "playing politics" with the issue, he told him: "It would be more helpful if you would back our troops out in Iraq. Having supported the war, having urged us to go to war, you are now trying to capitalise on anti-war sentiment to give yourself credibility. At the last count you had no fewer than four separate positions on the Iraq war. I can tell you that is three too many for anyone who seriously aspires to be prime minister."

Mr Blair then angrily told Charles Kennedy, the leader of the Liberal Democrats: "It was a difficult choice. I took the choice - I stand by it. But if he [Mr Kennedy] had had his way, let's be clear about this also: Saddam Hussein and his sons would still be running Iraq. And that was why I took the stand I did. I take it now and I at least will stick by it."

Referring to the recent discovery of a mass grave near Hatra in northern Iraq, he told his anti-war critics: "If they had had their way, that type of mass murder would still be going on."

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