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Blair: Public unconvinced on Iraq

Blair said he thought it was
Blair said he thought it was "bizarre" people questioned whether Saddam had WMD.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says he remains convinced that intelligence used to justify the war against Iraq was correct, but seemed to admit his government has yet to convince the public the war was justified.

Blair, speaking at his monthly televised press conference, said it had been important to remove Saddam Hussein's regime and the threat of his alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) after 12 years of trying to do so through the United Nations.

The "majority of people in Iraq are glad he has gone," Blair said, despite setbacks in trying to restore security in the country.

But some people in the UK remained skeptical -- especially in the absence of WMD more than three months after the fall of Saddam.

When asked Wednesday if he thought voters distrusted his administration, Blair said: "I accept there is an issue which we have to confront."

But he added: "What we did in Iraq was right and justified and that's a case that we have to prove over time.

"I believe the intelligence we received was correct -- that has always been my view all the way through."

He added the government needed to prove its case over the Iraq war "both in relation to weapons of mass destruction and in relation to the improvement of Iraq."

But he said he thought there was something "bizarre" about those who say Saddam had no WMD, suggesting the former dictator got rid of the U.N. inspectors before destroying the weapons without telling anyone.

Blair said people should wait until the Iraq Survey Group's report is filed before deciding on whether Iraq had WMD. He again refused calls for an independent inquiry to investigate the reasons for going to war.

He added that ultimately voters would judge his government on domestic issues, rather than the controversy surrounding the Iraq war.

"Whatever issues have been dominating the news for the past year, frankly the pubic in the end will judge us on the economy, the health service, schools, crime."

Blair refused to be drawn on questions about the apparent suicide earlier this month of weapons expert David Kelly, who was embroiled in a storm over claims the government exaggerated the threat posed by Iraqi arms. (Kelly funeral next week)

The government outed Kelly as the mole who allegedly told BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan that the government had "sexed up" intelligence on the case for war.

Blair side-stepped a question about searching his conscience over Kelly's death, and said all the government had wanted from the increasingly bitter wrangle with the BBC was to "correct an incorrect" story.

The regular news conference was the first chance journalists had to question Blair on the government scientist's death since the premier's return from a tour of the U.S. and Asia.

He said people should wait until Lord Hutton's independent inquiry on Kelly's death is finished before commenting further. The inquiry begins its preliminary hearing Friday but is likely to continue until September.

When asked if the coalition forces were any closer to catching Saddam following the killing of his two sons, Uday and Qusay, he said: "All I know is what you know. His two sons have been killed and his bodyguards have been captured and are being questioned.

"Does that make it more likely Saddam will be arrested? -- I suppose so, yes.

"I think the most important thing is that he is removed as an obstacle one way or another."

He said Saddam remained an obstacle as his supporters continued to sabotage the work of coalition troops in re-establishing services such as water supplies.

Blair held the hour-long session without his director of communications Alastair Campbell, who is on holiday.

Campbell is also at the center of the row on how Kelly's name was released to reporters.

Blair refused to be drawn on speculation that Campbell was going to step down soon.

Journalists posed the questions despite Blair trying to divert attention on to issues such as reform of the health service, education and a reduction in crime.

Blair's rating has plummeted in the UK, with 42 percent telling a CNN poll that they believe he intentionally misled the public over Iraqi weapons. (Full Story)

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