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Blair prepares for grilling over Iraq

Former British Prime minister Tony Blair has arrived at the Iraq Inquiry, as he prepares to be grilled by his decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq.

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The former leader arrived before 8am local time (1900 AEDT), some two hours early, at the conference centre where the inquiry is based.

He avoided any protesters, entering the building through a cordoned-off rear entrance.

Blair is expected to be questioned about charges that he and his inner circle were so determined to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that they exaggerated intelligence reports about Iraqi weapons systems and pressured an initially sceptical attorney general to declare that an invasion was consistent with international law.

Anti-war campaigners, who held a million-strong march against the invasion at the time, have promised protests for the hearing in London, while the public interest is such that organisers had to hold a ballot for spectators.

Relatives of some of the 179 British soldiers who died in the war will also be there, many of them keen to confront the man they hold responsible.

Britain and the United States justified the invasion of Iraq with the threat posed by its possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in defiance of United Nations resolutions, but they did not have explicit UN approval.

Concerns this meant the war was illegal were compounded by the failure to find the WMD, raising questions about the reasons for the conflict.

The inquiry panel, led by former top civil servant John Chilcot, has the remit of learning lessons but not apportioning blame, and the focus has inevitably narrowed onto Blair.

Although he is Labour’s most successful prime minister, leading the party to three successive electoral victories, Blair’s strong support for such an unpopular war contributed to his decision to step down early in June 2007.

Blair has always insisted the war was legal — supported by his then attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, who gave evidence and said he was convinced Iraq had chemical and biological weapons.