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Ignatieff explains past support for 
Iraq war 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 4:30 p.m. March 30, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Probable Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff's spent a good part of his coming out party Thursday facing questions about his past support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.   

Ignatieff, 58-year-old academic and author who was recently elected to Parliament, is considered among the leading candidates in a large field of Liberals who plan on entering a wide-open leadership race. 

On Thursday, he delivered a lengthy speech to a crowed of about 300 students, Liberals and other interested people at the University of Ottawa where he outlined his vision on Canada's role in the world and national unity. Security at the event had to turn away people at the door that wanted to get in to see Ignatieff speak. 

"I went to Iraq in 1992 and saw what Saddam Hussein had done to the Kurds and the Shia," he told the crowd. 

"I decided then and there that I'd stand with them whatever happened. I've stuck with them every since. Whatever mistakes the Americans have made one day Iraqis will create a decent society.

"When that day comes, Canadians should be there to help because their struggle is ours too."

After much deliberation, then prime minister Jean Chretien decided in 2003 not to support the U.S.'s planned invasion of Iraq because it did not have the approval of the United Nations Security Council. 

Since then, the decision has been seen by Liberals as one of Chretien's greatest accomplishments as the war in Iraq has become a major controversy and costly for the U.S. and UK. 

Ignatieff was pressed in a question-and-answer session with the audience and later in a scrum with reporters about whether he still supported the war and would he have sent Canadian troops to Iraq if he were in Chretien's position in 2003. 

Ignatieff said his support was based on his personal convictions, but wouldn't necessarily be his choice as a politician. 

"I respect the decision taken by Mr. Chretien in 2003. He did it in the interest of all Canadians.

"I didn't have those responsibilities in 2003 but now that I'm an elected politician, I'm deeply aware of those responsibilities and deeply aware that I must be accountable for my positions to the Canadian public. 

"The fact that 80 per cent of the Canadian public has stood in opposition to the war is surely a significant factor in determining how you stand in future engagements of this sort." 

Ignatieff also made clear to reporters that he is set to make a decision very soon about entering the race. 

"I'm giving this the most urgent consideration," he said. "I think you won't have to wait long. I'm not in a Hamlet-like state of indecision." 

One indication that Ignatieff will be entering the race is he had a small group of non-Parliamentary staffers handling the media for him at Thursday's event. 

Among the prominent Liberals in attendance at Ignatieff's speech were Senator David Smith - an Ignatieff supporter and veteran organizer for the Liberals - and Richard Mahoney, a Paul Martin friend and supporter, who ran for the Liberals in the Ottawa-Centre riding in the past two federal elections. 

However, not all in the crowd were supportive of Ignatieff. Four protestors put on orange jumpsuits and black head covers and stood up with their back to Ignatieff for the duration of his speech. 

They held placards, including one that read, "Ignatieff: Appeaser for imperialists."

Security briefly spoke to the demonstrators, but allowed them to stay. 

The Liberals will hold their leadership convention in December in Montreal. 

There are currently only two declared candidates in the race - Toronto lawyer Martha Hall Findlay and Toronto MP John Godfrey. 

Others expected to enter in the coming weeks include MPs Maurizio Bevilacqua, Scott Brison, Stephane Dion, Ken Dryden, Belinda Stronach, Joe Volpe, former Ontario premier Bob Rae and Ontario Education Minister Gerard Kennedy. 

: Related Links

> Liberal leadership race 2006- Looking past Chretien-Martin era 

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