TONY BLAIR will be grilled on why he took Britain to war with Iraq when he makes his appearance before the inquiry into the conflict today.

More than two-and-a-half years after leaving Downing Street, the former Prime Minister and MP for Sedgefield returns to Westminster to give evidence about his decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair’s account of how he came to support US President George Bush’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003 – despite massive opposition – will be watched keenly around the world.

In six hours of evidence, he will be asked when he committed Britain to war, whether he leaned on Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to agree it was legal, and whether he manipulated intelligence about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.

Opinion remains sharply divided over whether ousting Saddam’s brutal regime was justified given the enormous human and financial cost.

Mr Blair has been accused of misleading Parliament to take the UK into war, and some have called for him to be indicted for war crimes.

Anti-war campaigners will stage demonstrations outside the inquiry, which is sitting at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Among the protestors will be relatives of some of the 179 British personnel who died in Iraq.

The inquiry has already heard evidence suggesting Mr Blair agreed to join the US-led invasion nearly a year before it began.

Alastair Campbell, the former Prime Minister’s communications director, said Mr Blair sent Mr Bush secret messages in 2002, assuring him Britain would “be there”

if it came to military action.

And the former British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, said it appeared that an agreement was “signed in blood” by Mr Blair and Mr Bush at the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.

Previous witnesses to the inquiry have also raised serious questions about the legality of the war.

Lord Goldsmith revealed on Wednesday that he advised Mr Blair in January 2003 that it would not be lawful to attack Iraq without a further UN Security Council resolution.

It was not until February 27, less than a month before the invasion began, that the Attorney General finally gave the legal “green light” for military action.

But the senior legal advisor at the Foreign Office, Sir Michael Wood, told the inquiry he warned then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that military action without another UN resolution would be a “crime of aggression”.

Mr Blair is also likely to be questioned about comments he made in a BBC interview last month.

He told presenter Fern Britton he believed it would still have been right to invade Iraq even if it was known at the time that Saddam did not have the weapons of mass destruction that were the pretext for the war.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Mr Blair has been staying up into the early hours studying documents from the time of the war to prepare himself for his appearance.

More than 3,000 members of the public applied for one of 80 places to see Mr Blair give evidence live in the inquiry chamber – 40 in the morning and 40 in the afternoon.

Twenty seats in the room have also been set aside for the families of service personnel who died in Iraq.

Calls to release invasion documents

THE Government was last night facing fresh calls to declassify documents relating to the invasion of Iraq ahead of Tony Blair’s appearance today before the inquiry.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said that ministers would lay themselves open to charges of a cover-up unless the material was released in time for the hearing.

The call came after the inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, voiced his “frustration”

on Wednesday that they were unable to release key papers relevant to its hearings.

Although the inquiry team has copies of all the documents, they are unable to make them public or refer in detail to their contents during the questioning of witnesses unless they have been declassified by the Cabinet Office.

It is not known which documents the inquiry is seeking to release, but the Lib Dems have drawn up a list of key correspondence they believe should be released before Mr Blair appears.

They include a briefing note drawn up by his foreign affairs advisor before his visit to George Bush at the President’s ranch in April 2002, 11 months before the invasion.

They are also calling for the release of a note written by the Prime Minister to Mr Bush in July 2002.

According to former No 10 communications chief Alastair Campbell, it was one of a series of letters in which he said Mr Blair had assured the President that Britain would “be there” with the US if it came to war.