Date set for Blair to face Iraq inquiry

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Tony Blair is to make his long-awaited appearance before the Iraq Inquiry on Friday of next week it was announced today.

His appearance will be preceded on Wednesday next week by the former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, who issued the controversial advice that military action against Iraq was legal.

Other key witnesses appearing next week will be Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the former Foreign Office legal adviser who quit in protest at the invasion, who appears on Tuesday.

Two former defence secretaries, Des Browne and John Hutton will give evidence on Monday while former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett will be appearing on Tuesday.

Today the inquiry was told that Tony Blair wrote to US president George Bush 11 months before the invasion of Iraq warning him of the need to "move quickly" if it came to military action.

Jonathan Powell, who was the No 10 chief of staff, said that in a note to Mr Bush following their meeting at the president's Texas ranch at Crawford in April 2002 the prime minister had warned of the need to be prepared if things became "militarily tricky".

However, he strongly denied that Mr Blair had given an "undertaking signed in blood" that if it came to war Britain would be there with the Americans.

He insisted that Mr Blair had always been committed to trying to resolve the crisis over Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction through the United Nations.

Mr Powell said that in his note to Mr Bush following the meeting at Crawford, Mr Blair was trying to make clear what would be a sensible basis to "go ahead".

"What he was talking about was the danger of unintended consequences. Suppose it became militarily tricky, Iraq suffered unexpected civilian casualties, the Iraqis feeling ambivalent about being invaded," he said.

"If we move quickly, everyone will be our friend. If we don't and they haven't been bound in beforehand, recriminations will start fast."

However he strongly denied the claim by the former ambassador to Washington Sir Christopher Meyer, that Mr Blair and Mr Bush had struck an agreement "signed in blood" to go to war.

"I was at Crawford, David Manning (Mr Blair's foreign policy adviser) was at Crawford. Christopher Meyer was not at Crawford. He was at Waco 30 miles away," he said.

"There was not an undertaking in blood to go to war with Iraq. There was no firm decision to go to war."