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Top aide to Blair wanted U.N. support for Iraq war

LONDON (Reuters) - A key aide to former Prime Minister Tony Blair said there would be “no question” of Britain joining the U.S.-led Iraq invasion without United Nations support, newly declassified documents said Wednesday.

The documents shed more light on Britain’s decision to join the 2003 invasion, which in the end went ahead without a U.N. mandate, triggering criticism that Britain and the United States had pre-planned the Iraq war regardless of global opinion.

The invasion was highly unpopular with the British public and sparked years of bloody sectarian conflict in Iraq.

Britain was the closest U.S. ally in the war, and Blair’s supportive stand with then U.S. President George Bush has dogged Blair’s Labour party, which was ousted from government in May after 13 years in power.

In a December 2002 meeting with officials including then Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, Blair chief of staff Jonathan Powell outlined scenarios that may herald the use of force against Iraq, which was accused of hiding weapons of mass destruction.

“At the other extreme, the U.S. become(s) frustrated with the UN process and decide(s) to take military action regardless, i.e. without UN support,” Powell was reported as saying in the newly declassified draft documents.

“There would be no question of the UK supporting military action in the event of (this) scenario,” he added, but goes on to say it was unlikely the U.S. would proceed with the invasion without British support.

The documents have been released against the backdrop of the long-running Iraq inquiry, set up by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown last year to learn lessons from the conflict.

The new documents also detail Goldsmith’s misgivings about going to war without a UN mandate.

He was pessimistic resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations months before the war broke out, could justify military action.

The United States and Britain, along with a smattering of other allies, in the end invaded Iraq without a second U.N. resolution. No weapons of mass destruction were found.

The newly released documents do not add substantially to evidence Goldsmith gave to the Iraq inquiry in January, or explain why he appeared to suddenly change his mind on the legality of military action in Iraq days before the invasion.

He had pushed for a second UN resolution for the use of force as late as March 7, but by March 13 his definitive view was that military action would be legal.

Reporting by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Michael Roddy