London: Britain wanted to avoid the 2003 war in Iraq, its foreign secretary at the time said on Thursday, saying that backing the conflict was "the most difficult decision I have ever faced in my life."
Jack Straw, the first serving Cabinet minister to give evidence to a public inquiry into the US-led conflict, insisted however that ministers made the "best judgements" possible in the run-up to the invasion.
Straw, who is currently Justice Secretary in Prime Minister Gordon Brown`s government, gave evidence a week before former premier Tony Blair makes his long-awaited appearance on January 29.
Blair will be grilled on the reasons for the conflict, amid doubts about the intelligence on Iraq`s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) used to justify the invasion and Blair`s professed desire to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
In his evidence, Straw insisted that so-called regime change was not Britain`s aim and said he made clear at the time that any use of force to depose Saddam under this objective would have been "improper" and "unlawful".
In a 25-page memorandum submitted to the inquiry ahead of his verbal evidence, he accepted that from early 2002 "there was no secret whatever" that US military action against Iraq backed by Britain "was a possibility".
But he wrote: "Our foreign policy objective was the disarmament of Iraq and its compliance with (UN Security Council resolution) 1441, not military action against Iraq, not regime change.”