A DEFIANT Tony Blair urged the British people to feel “pride and achievement” in the Iraq war yesterday – but faced shouts of “murderer”

from some families of soldiers who died.

In highly-emotional evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, the former Prime Minister was twice asked if he had any regrets about the huge loss of life, but declined to express any.

Instead, Mr Blair said: “Responsibility, but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein.

I think he was a monster.

I believed he threatened not just the region, but the world.”

The lack of contrition sparked angry scenes from relatives of dead British soldiers in the public gallery. One mother shouted “liar”, while at least one other yelled “murderer”.

Other relatives booed.

Mr Blair also took head-on the “liar” charge, saying: “This is not about a lie, or a deceit, or a conspiracy or a deception – it’s a decision.”

Insisting Iraqis were now upbeat about their future, he added: “We can look back, the Armed Forces in particular can look back, with immense sense of pride and achievement in what we did.”

Twice describing the Iraqi dictator as a monster, he said: “The decision I took – and frankly would take again – was if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction we should stop him.”

And, far from being on the back foot, he challenged Britain to recognise that the threat from Iran today – and, perhaps, the need for military action – was greater than Iraq in 2003.

However, Mr Blair displayed rare nerves at what was widely seen as his last opportunity to justify the bloody war that split the country and helped force him out of No 10 prematurely.

Several witnesses said his hand shook as he poured himself a glass of water before he started to speak.

The former Sedgefield MP had to clasp his hands together to steady them. He looked tired and tense.

Outside the Westminster conference centre, about 200 demonstrators staged a noisy protest, some wearing Blair face masks and waving placards reading Bliar.

During six hours of questioning, the former premier:

● Denied he “signed in blood” to go to war with President Bush a full year before the conflict, although he vowed he “would be with him” if the UN route failed;

● Admitted the notorious 45-minute claim in the September 2002 dossier referred to battlefield weapons – not missiles, that could attack other countries – but said he learned that later;

● Acknowledged the publication of the dossier was a mistake, saying it would have been better to “take politics out of it altogether”;

● Blamed the bloodbath in post-war Iraq on infiltration by Iran and al Qaida, rather than a failure of planning;

● Urged people to ask the “2010 question”

– with the answer that Iraqis, today, were far better off without Saddam;

● Hinted that military action was necessary to tackle the nuclear threat from Iran, saying: “We don’t take any risks with this issue.”

The only time the former Prime Minister looked uncomfortable was when he was questioned about a BBC interview, which took place last year, in which he suggested he would have gone to war even knowing Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction.

He had not said “regime change”

had been his true aim, but hinted he described his position badly, “even with all my experience of dealing with interviews”.

Mr Blair arrived almost two hours early for the hearing, to avoid the determined pack of anti-war protestors – prompting some of them to brand him a “coward”.

Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry’s chairman, described the appearance as the “first time” the former Prime Minister had appeared, adding: “If necessary, we will speak to Mr Blair again.”