I'll keep pressure on Blair over post-war role, says Howard

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The Independent Online

Michael Howard insisted yesterday that he would maintain pressure on Tony Blair to justify the Government's handling of the aftermath of war in Iraq.

The Tory leader rejected criticism of his decision to break ranks with the Prime Minister over Iraq, declaring: "I have a duty to ask questions and be critical when it's appropriate for me to do so." He warned that people "have not faced up" to the damage caused by the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib jail.

Mr Howard shrugged off reports that his predecessor, Iain Duncan Smith, was angry at his shift in policy, and indicated that Mr Blair cannot rely on the Conservatives' unquestioning support for additional troop deployments to Iraq. The former Tory leader was said to have told colleagues Mr Howard's approach was "not too clever" and said the new policy was "asking for trouble".

Mr Howard has faced widespread criticism after he called on Mr Blair to abandon his decision not to criticise the White House, a move which represented a sharp break with Mr Duncan Smith's policy of remaining resolutely supportive of the war and its aftermath.

Yesterday he insisted that those who believed he should be united with Mr Blair "misunderstand the nature of our Parliamentary democracy". Mr Howard said he had not been "deluged" with protest letters from Republicans despite claims that the White House "hates" the Tory leader and has let it be known the administration believes the Conservatives are not supportive enough over Iraq. Yesterday Mr Howard told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme the Conservatives would support additional troop deployments to Iraq if the Government "makes a proper case". He said: "Iain is entirely entitled to his views, if they are his views. They're not my views. We supported the decision to go to war. I agreed with that. I still think that was right.

"I agree with the Prime Minister that we have to see things through. It's precisely because I share those objectives and we supported the decision to go to war that I am so concerned when things go wrong and some things have gone wrong.

"I think I have a duty to ask questions about that and to be critical when it is appropriate for me."

Mr Howard insisted he was not pressing for public criticism of the Bush administration. He said: "I hope in private the Prime Minister makes his views clear. but there are occasions ... where I think it would be perfectly appropriate and proper for him to give the British Government's view of things. That's not really asking necessarily for public criticism. I'm asking for the British Government's view of things. If it is different from the American government's view I don't think we should shy from it for that reason."