British premier apologizes for flawed data on Iraq

But Blair rejects charges of deception on weapons


LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his most explicit apology to date yesterday for the flawed intelligence assessments upon which he took Britain to war in Iraq, but he rejected opposition accusations that he had misrepresented that intelligence.

"I take full responsibility and apologize for any information given in good faith that has subsequently turned out to be wrong," Blair told the House of Commons during a spirited exchange with opposition members.

"What I do not in any way accept is that there was a deception of anyone," Blair said. "I will not apologize for removing Saddam Hussein. I will not apologize for the conflict. I believe it was right then, is right now and essential for the wider security of that region and the world."

Though Blair made a muscular defense of his position, his remarks reflected his careful management of the issue in Parliament, where a large fraction of his Labor Party is in rebellion over the Iraq policy. Together with opposition members, they have been demanding an apology of some sort for mistakes about the existence of prewar weapons stockpiles and for inadequate planning for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq.

Britain's MI6 intelligence service has been forced to retract its assertions that Hussein had stockpiled chemical and biological weapons and that such weapons could be deployed on 45 minutes' notice, a claim that helped to galvanize British public opinion in favor of war.

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