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Clare Short Says Blair Lied Over Iraq

Former International Development Secretary Clare Short in London after giving evidence before the Iraq Inquiry on February 2.

Former International Development Secretary Clare Short in London after giving evidence before the Iraq Inquiry on February 2.

LONDON (Reuters) -- Former minister Clare Short has accused Tony Blair of lying over the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and said she believed the government's chief lawyer at the time had misled the cabinet over its legality.

Short, a long-time Blair critic who was then International Development Secretary, disputed evidence the former prime minster gave last week to an inquiry into the war, saying he had sidelined the cabinet and kept ministers in the dark.

Discussions were limited and there had been a "block on communications," said Short, who voted in favor of the 2003 invasion but quit the government shortly afterwards because Blair had "conned" her about the United Nations having a lead role.

On January 29, Blair made a robust defense of his decision to go to war, saying Saddam Hussein had posed a threat to the world and had to be disarmed or removed.

He also told the inquiry there had been "substantive discussion" with senior ministers in the cabinet.

But Short said she had been excluded from talks and that Blair had not wanted Iraq discussed in the cabinet because he was afraid of leaks to the media.

"There was secretiveness and deception on top of that," she told the Chilcot inquiry which is examining Britain's role in the war and its aftermath. "Normal communications were being closed down."

She accused Blair of being "frantic" to support the United States and said claims the French would have vetoed any second UN resolution authorizing military action had been untrue.

"In my view that was a lie, a deliberate lie," she said.

She added that current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the then chancellor, had been marginalized and that Blair was obsessed with his legacy.

Brown himself will give evidence later this month or at the start of March and commentators warn the inquiry could damage the Labour party, which is trailing in the polls, before an election due by June.

Goldsmith Misled Cabinet

Short accused former Attorney General Peter Goldsmith of not telling the cabinet of his doubts about the legality of war, nor that senior Foreign Office lawyers believed it would be illegal without a second UN resolution.

Goldsmith has said he too initially doubted the war's legality and only concluded it would be lawful without such a resolution a week before the invasion, and just days before the cabinet were briefed.

"I think he misled the cabinet, he certainly misled me, but people let it through," Short said.

She told the inquiry she believed Goldsmith had been pressured by Blair, something he denies, because of his sudden change of heart but had no direct evidence to back this up.

Short told the inquiry she had seen intelligence which showed there was no imminent threat from Saddam, and she was damning of the planning for the aftermath of the invasion.

"There was no reason why it had to be as quick as it was," she said. "It was all done on a wing and a prayer.

"We could have gone more slowly and carefully and not had a totally destabilised and angry Iraq into which came Al-Qaeda which wasn't there before and that would have been safer for the world."

Short quit the Labour Party parliamentary group in 2006 to become an independent, saying Blair had engaged in deceit over the Iraq War.