Blair labelled war criminal at Iraq conflict inquiry

Angry families of British servicemen killed in Iraq told members of the official inquiry into the conflict yesterday that former Prime Minister Tony Blair must be held accountable for taking the nation to war.

Many blamed Mr Blair for the deaths of their loved ones in an "illegal" conflict, and some even called for him to be prosecuted for war crimes.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot has confirmed that Mr Blair will give evidence and insists he and his committee will not shy away from criticising individuals.

The panel has not begun hearing from witnesses yet, but yesterday it held the first in a series of meetings for bereaved families and Iraq veterans to say which areas they wanted it to examine.

Among those attending the session in London was Deirdre Gover, 63, whose son, Flt Lt Kristian Gover, 30, was killed in a helicopter accident in Basra, southern Iraq, in July 2004.

Speaking afterwards, she accused Mr Blair of lying to the Cabinet and to the country in the lead-up to the war.

"I hold Tony Blair personally responsible for the death of my son," she said.

"My son as an officer was prepared to die for his Queen and country in a just conflict. This was totally unjustified and wrong, and I think that's what the inquiry will prove."

Ms Gover confronted Mr Blair at the Guildhall in London on Friday after a memorial service for the 179 British personnel who died during the 2003-2009 Iraq conflict.

Mr Blair was also publicly snubbed at the Guildhall event by the father of a soldier killed in Iraq, who accused him of having "blood on his hands" over the conflict.

Ms Gover, who lives in Paris, said: "I would like him indicted as a war criminal in the international court."

The mood at yesterday's mostly private meeting between families and Sir John and four members of his committee was described as sombre and quietly emotional.

Another of the bereaved parents who attended was Roger Bacon, 67.

His son, Maj Matthew Bacon, 34, from the Intelligence Corps, was killed by an explosive device while riding in a lightly-armoured Snatch Land Rover in Basra in September 2005.

Mr Bacon said: "I cannot understand any of the so-called reasons that we went to war.

"Weapons of mass destruction? They don't exist. Regime change? An entirely immoral thing to do."

Troops to return in security pact

Iraq's parliament has approved the return of a limited number of British troops to Iraq to help protect its southern oil ports.

Members agreed on a security pact with Britain that would return about 100 troops to provide protection to the oil sites and train Iraqi forces. Iraq's president and two vice-presidents must still sign off the agreement.

British forces ended combat operations in Iraq earlier this year, withdrawing all but 100 to 150 personnel who were training Iraq's new navy.

Britain pulled out its other personnel this summer.