Blair to Face Inquiry Into Iraq War


LONDON—Tony Blair will undergo a public grilling this week over the U.K.'s role in the Iraq war, raising questions about the former prime minister's legacy and his value to the Labour Party he once led as it prepares for a tough election battle.

In a much-anticipated appearance on Jan. 29 before a five-member panel investigating the war, Mr. Blair is expected to face questions about the legitimacy—and even legality—of the U.K.'s involvement in Iraq. He will be confronted about whether he committed to overthrow Saddam Hussein long before the immediate run-up to the war, and quizzed about criticisms of the U.K's preparedness for the invasion and its minimal influence over U.S. allies.

The spotlight on Iraq is the latest in a series of dents Mr. Blair's reputation has sustained since leaving office in 2007 after a 10-year run. One of modern Britain's most influential and popular politicians, he led the seemingly unelectable Labour Party to power in 1997.

Now, however, the war and Britain's deep recession have soured voters on the Labour regime.

The former prime minister has taken a series of hits: the rejection by European governments of Britain's attempts to install Mr. Blair as the European Union's first president, questions about his effectiveness as a U.N. special envoy to the Middle East, and his acceptance of lucrative consulting work from companies such as the U.S. bank J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., leading to accusations—including from within his party—that he has cashed in on his status.

Mr. Blair has long said it was right to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein because of the threat he posed to the region. A spokesman for Mr. Blair declined to comment on the coming hearing.

The spokesman said Mr. Blair remains focused on his charitable foundations, governance initiatives in Africa, advocacy for climate change and his work in the Middle East. On the latter, the spokesman said progress was being made in the West Bank, including a growing economy and the reduction of restrictions to movement, and that Mr. Blair also helped secure significant investment in the Palestinian Authority.

It is Mr. Blair's efforts to involve the U.K. in Iraq that may prove most problematic to his legacy and determine whether he can play any role in helping his successor, Gordon Brown, fight off a challenge from the resurgent Conservative Party in a general election that must be held by June. Mr. Brown is due to appear before the panel in late February or early March.

The conflict, from which Britain withdrew in July, left 179 British military personnel dead and resulted in massive public protests. Mr. Blair has been accused of war crimes by some relatives of the dead, who say he engaged in Britain in a war that broke international laws, which Mr. Blair denies.

The Iraq inquiry panel already has heard from a parade of military and intelligence officials and government ministers, sparking a slew of negative headlines in the U.K. about Mr. Blair, 56 years old.

Many details to emerge from the hearings already have surfaced during earlier Iraq-related inquiries in the U.K., of which there have been several. And some former advisers have painted the picture of a prime minister who was working to secure a peaceful solution via the United Nations and to steer the U.S. away from pursuing conflict right up to just before the military invasion.

Shortly after the hearings began in late November, Mr. Blair spoke out about what he perceives to be the British media's negative slant toward him generally.

"They don't approach me in an objective way," Mr. Blair said in a December interview with The Sunday Times of London, which is owned by The Wall Street Journal parent company News Corp. "Their first question is how to belittle what I'm doing, knock it down, write something bad about it."