Ahern denies backing war on Iraq

Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was attacked today for comments in which he claimed he had always been opposed to the war in Iraq.

Opposition parties and anti-war campaigners branded his comments ``an insult`` after

United States military planes continue to use Shannon airport en route to Iraq in a lucrative trade for the airport operators.

But Ahern insisted he was ``not remotely surprised'' Ireland had not been included by the White House from a list of countries which can bid for major contracts in the reconstruction of Iraq.

He insisted the decision vindicated his stance on Iraq, claiming he had always been opposed to the conflict.

``It will prove to people that the agreement for US troops to use Shannon was not seen as support of the war,'' said an Irish government spokeswoman.

The Taoiseach's comments have angered anti-war activists. The Irish Anti War Movement said they were ``ridiculous''.

Chairman Richard Boyd Barrett, said: ``The Taoiseach`s claim that he opposed the war on Iraq is the most spectacular example to date of this government's attempts to cover up its collusion with the US invasion of Iraq.

``First they tried to cover up about the extent to which Shannon was being used by the US military and lie about the fact that US soldiers were carrying weapons.

``Now they are trying to whitewash completely the fact that they played a key role in facilitating the US war on Iraq and are still facilitating the occupation.''

Pat Rabbitte, leader of the Labour Party, said Mr Ahern was insulting the intelligence of the Irish electorate. ``These extraordinary attempts to reinvent himself as a peace-activist are in stark contrast to the craven approach he adopted to President Bush and his colleagues in the run up to and during the course of the war,'' he said.

``If he did indeed oppose the war, Mr Ahern kept it a closely guarded secret for the entire course of the conflict, refusing to give a straight answer to any question as to where Ireland stood, while at the same time actively facilitating the massive US-led military operation with the use of facilities at Shannon.''

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