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Britain's Clegg says Iraq invasion was "illegal"

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described the 2003 invasion of Iraq as illegal on Wednesday, putting the new coalition government under pressure to clarity its position on the war.

A video grab shows Britain's deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg (C), addressing the House of Commons during Prime Ministers Questions in London July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Parbul TV VIA Reuters TV

The Liberal Democrat leader was speaking in parliament while deputizing for Prime Minister David Cameron who was on a visit to the United States.

Cameron, like most of his Conservative Party -- the senior coalition partners -- supported Britain’s involvement in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq under the previous Labour government.

A spokeswoman for the prime minister said the Lib Dem leader was only expressing his view. She could not say what the coalition’s exact position on the matter was.

Clegg’s remark was intended as a jibe against Jack Straw, who was foreign secretary during the invasion.

“I am happy to account for everything that we are doing in this coalition government, a coalition government which has brought together two parties working in the national interest to sort out the mess that he left behind,” Clegg said during an unusually tetchy exchange.

“Maybe one day, and perhaps we’ll have to wait for his (Straw’s) memoirs, he could account for his role in the most disastrous decision of all, which is the illegal invasion of Iraq,” he added.

Faced with repeated questioning at a news conference whether this represented government policy or a view endorsed by Cameron, the spokeswoman said: “The deputy prime minister is entitled to his own view.”

“I don’t believe the coalition government has a specific view on the legality of the Iraq war,” she added.

An inquiry headed by former civil servant John Chilcot is looking into the Iraq war, but its goal is to learn lessons from the conflict and not to rule on its legality.

Britain has withdrawn its troops from Iraq but has 9,500 soldiers in Afghanistan. A rising death toll there is leading to increased public concern over the campaign.

Clegg’s remark came as a YouGov poll for the Sun newspaper showed support for his party fell to 14 percent, the lowest it has been since February 2009.

Its poll standing had been as high as 34 percent before the May election which cast the traditionally third-place party into an alliance with the Conservatives.