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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Defiant at Inquiry Over Iraq

LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday at a government inquiry into the death of scientist David Kelly that he would have had to resign if there had been any truth in a media report claiming that his government distorted information about Iraqi weapons.

Blair said the BBC report that claimed his office exaggerated estimations of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was not true and that it questioned his credibility.

"It was an extraordinary allegation to make and an extremely serious one," he told an inquiry into the apparent suicide of a government weapons expert who was caught up in a political storm over the government's Iraq policy. "This was an absolutely fundamental charge. ... This was an allegation that we had behaved in a way that, were it true ... would have warranted my resignation."

Blair said a contentious government dossier on Iraq's arsenal was based on intelligence sources and was not manipulated for political reasons. He told the inquiry that a claim in the dossier that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes came from British intelligence, and was not inserted at the insistence of his office.

Blair was giving testimony before an inquiry on why Kelly apparently committed suicide after being identified as the likely source of the BBC report that claimed the government exaggerated the threat of Iraqi weapons to win support for military action.

Blair has vigorously denied misleading lawmakers or the public in the run-up to war. The BBC report sparked a bitter dispute between the public broadcaster and the government, with the credibility of both at stake.

Blair said in July, shortly after Kelly's death, that he did not authorize the scientist's identification by government officials. But he told the inquiry Thursday that he took responsibility for the decisions by officials that led to Kelly being identified publicly after the scientist told superiors at the Ministry of Defense he might be the source for the BBC story.

The inquiry has been trying to determine how the government came to expose Kelly -- a move that placed him under intense media pressure and led him to give testimony before two parliamentary committees. On July 18, three days after he testified, police found Kelly's body with his left wrist slashed.

In Wednesday's hearing, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said Blair's office authorized a news release saying an unidentified official at the Defense Ministry had acknowledged speaking to a BBC journalist. That created a rush by British reporters to identify the source, with some guessing names until they came up with Kelly's and it was confirmed by the Defense Ministry.

The May 29 BBC report said an official dossier in September about Iraqi weapons was "sexed up" with a claim that biological and chemical weapons could be deployed in 45 minutes.