Brown defends Britain's Iraq role

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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown testified today before an inquiry into Britain's decision to enter the Iraq War. Brown defended Britain's role in the conflict. The World's Laura Lynch has details.

MARCO WERMAN: Iraq was a hot topic in Britain today, though the focus wasn't so much on the current elections there as a look back at Britain's role in the invasion. Today Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced four hours of questioning before the ongoing Iraq inquiry. Brown was Britain's equivalent of the Treasury Secretary for most of the war and he spent much of today defending the decision to go to war in Iraq. But as The World's Laura Lynch reports, he also had some sharp criticism for Britain's partner, the United States.

LAURA LYNCH: No one was expecting the kind of drama or tension that characterized former Prime Minister Tony Blair's turn before the inquiry five weeks ago. But the Chairman, Sir John Chilcot set out what was at stake as he opened today's hearing.

SIR JOHN CHILCOT: Good morning everyone. Today the Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Gordon Brown, M.P. is here to give evidence to the Iraq inquiry. The committee are acutely conscious that this hearing takes place in the months leading up to a general election.

LYNCH: So this was Brown's challenge: defend the decision to go to war, but try to frame it in a way that wouldn't do him any damage in what's shaping up to be a closely fought election. From the start Brown said he supported the Iraq invasion, but insisted he wasn't a key player in the discussions about military action. Instead he said he focused on plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war. And more than once, he pointedly criticized the U.S. for ignoring his pleas to create a post-invasion strategy.

PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: I made it absolutely clear to United States that I felt that they had to take more seriously the issues of reconstruction. I can only say that we had started planning in the Treasury for this some months before, but we had to persuade our other colleagues that this was the right thing to do.

LYNCH: But most of the questions for Brown, and most of the criticism he's faced over the war were focused on funding for the military. Military leaders have testified they were sent into battle without enough equipment and that Brown, as Treasury Chief, cut the defense budget just one year after the invasion. And then there are the relatives of soldiers who died. Susan Smith's son, Phillip, was killed in 2005 when his light armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb.

SUSAN SMITH: If he knew this equipment wasn't good enough, and there was a need for equipment, why was the funding not there.

LYNCH: Brown expressed sympathy for the victims and their families, but he stood his ground on the funding issue.

BROWN: I think if you look at the question of expenditure in Iraq, you've got to start from this one fundamental truth, that every request that the military commanders made to us for equipment was answered. No request was ever turned down.

LYNCH: Outside the inquiry, former soldier Patrick Hennessey said he was frustrated by what he called a disconnect between Brown's claims and what he saw on the ground.

PATRICK HENNESSEY: I was in Iraq when there wasn't enough body armor and when there weren't enough vehicles to go around. People were in Afghanistan when there weren't enough helicopters to go around. These aren't controversial things to say and it's very easy for somebody in a committee to simply dismiss and say, oh the budget went up in real terms so therefore there was no problem. When in fact, there was a problem for people on the ground. They didn't have access to the kit they needed.

LYNCH: Brown's final remarks today were words of sorrow and sympathy for the troops and Iraqi civilians who have died in the country. It was a contrast to Tony Blair who starkly told the inquiry he had no regrets. It was another indication that Brown knows he needs to set himself apart from Blair if he hopes to have a chance of winning the upcoming election. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch in London.