Former prime minister Tony Blair said he would take the same decision again to join the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, after he and other officials were accused of misleading the public and parliament over the intelligence used to justify the invasion.
Blair was reacting to an inquiry report that said Britain had decided to invade Iraq before exhausting peaceful options, used intelligence presented with a "certainty that was not justified," and undermined the authority of the United Nations.
"We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted," said John Chilcot, the lead author of the 2.6-million-word report, which presented the results of an inquiry that took seven years to complete.
"Military action at that time was not a last resort," Chilcot said.
"The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction - WMD - were presented with a certainty that was not justified."
Blair admitted there were "mistakes in planning and process" in Britain's role in the invasion but said: "I would take the same decision [again]."
He decided to invade Iraq "because I believed it was the right thing to do, based on the [available] information."
Blair's cabinet agreed to invade Iraq, if Saddam Hussein did not accept a final US ultimatum to leave within 48 hours, in March 2003. Parliament backed the decision the following day.
"The decision was, however, shaped by key choices made by Mr Blair's government over the previous 18 months," Chilcot said.
In a July 2002 note on Iraq, Blair told US President George W Bush "I will be with you, whatever."
On Wednesday, Blair said the note to Bush was designed to "make it clear I was going to be with the Americans" but was not an open agreement for Washington to go ahead with the invasion, as some critics have claimed.
By December 2002, Bush had decided that UN weapons inspections "would not achieve the desired result" and the US would take military action in early 2003, the Chilcot report said.
Blair accepted a US timetable for military action by mid-March 2003, and Bush agreed to help him by seeking a further UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, the report said.
But it became clear it would not be possible to persuade a majority to support a second resolution before the US took military action.
"In the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council's authority," Chilcot said.
Blair rejected that conclusion. "The US was going to war, with us or without us," he told reporters during two-hour defence of his conduct.
"The reality is that we - Britain - had continuously tried to act with the authority of the UN," Blair said.
"I made the decision in good faith on the information I had at the time," he said.
"What I cannot do, and will not do, is say we took the wrong decision," he said, insisting that the world was "a better place" after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Blair said the decision to invade Iraq was the "hardest, most momentous and agonizing" one of his time as prime minister.
He admitted that the analysis of intelligence on Saddam Hussein's development of weapons of mass destruction "turned out to be wrong," and said the aftermath of the invasion was "more bloody than we ever imagined."
Chilcot said the invasion "failed to achieve its stated objectives," but Blair rejected claims it is "the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world."
Scores of anti-war protesters gathered in central London as the report was released, some calling for Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes and many carrying placards bearing the word "Bliar."
Blair insisted there were "no lies, no deceit" in his conduct.
By Bill Smith
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