British Public Not Convinced That War Was Justified, Blair Says

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

London ( - The British public has yet to be entirely convinced that war in Iraq was justified, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday.

But Blair also repeated that he was confident that the U.S.-led coalition would be proved right in the end.

"I accept there is an issue which we have to confront," he told reporters at his monthly news conference. "What we did in Iraq was right and justified and that's a case that we have to not just assert but prove over time."

Blair said that more proof needed to be offered "both in relation to weapons of mass destruction and in relation to the improvement of Iraq."

But he later noted that "ordinary Iraqis are glad their country has been freed from Saddam."

Lending support to the war was widely seen as a political gamble for Blair, as Britons were deeply divided over military action.

Polls taken on the eve of war in March found roughly equal percentages in favor of and opposed to military action.

In recent weeks the prime minister's approval ratings have dropped as coalition troops have not been able to uncover hard evidence of possession of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq at the time hostilities began.

Blair has also been hurt by the apparent suicide of David Kelly, a Ministry of Defense weapons adviser who was embroiled in a dispute between the government and the BBC.

Kelly was the once-anonymous source of a BBC report that alleged the government had "sexed up" -- or exaggerated -- Iraq's weapons programs to back the case for war.

His name eventually came out in the press and he was forced to testify in front of a parliamentary committee looking into the Iraq weapons claims. He was found dead three days later.

The prime minister referred to an independent inquiry into Kelly's death when questioned about the case. The inquiry will be led by a senior judge, Lord Hutton, and will be officially opened on Friday.

"All we ever wanted was an incorrect story corrected," Blair said when asked whether he regretted his administration's handling of the affair.

"I think there are issues there for both sides of the political culture and perhaps when the Hutton inquiry has finalised its judgements and published those, that debate can take place in a more informed way," Blair said.

Blair was also questioned about the construction of an Israeli security fence in the West Bank.

He said that he shared "misgivings" about the fence with President Bush.

"But the only way we're going to get that security fence taken down is to make progress on the peace process and security," Blair said.

Speaking after talks with President Bush on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said construction of the fence would continue.

Blair began his news conference by noting that his government, in power since 1997, will soon become the longest-serving Labor Party ruling bloc in British history.

"There is a big job of work to do -- my appetite for doing it is undiminished," he said when asked about reports that he would seek a third term as prime minister.

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