Dutch PM backs away from criticizing Iraq report

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende conceded Wednesday, “with the knowledge of now,” that a stronger legal mandate was needed for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 — and his decision to support it.

The statement in a letter to parliament appeared to have saved Balkenende’s 3-year-old ruling coalition from collapse.

Balkenende enraged the Labor Party, a coalition partner, on Tuesday by dismissing the findings of a government-commissioned study that criticized his coalition in 2003 for supporting the Iraq invasion.

Labor lawmakers were particularly angry that Balkenende appeared to speak also for their party when he rejected the report Tuesday.

Labor was not in the 2003 coalition and always opposed Dutch support for the attack.

Balkenende’s statement followed a day of feverish negotiations between senior members of the three parties in his current coalition amid speculation the administration could disintegrate a year before the next scheduled national election.

The letter they finally hammered out said the Cabinet would “take lessons” from the critical report.

Opposition lawmakers who had hoped Labor would pull out of the Cabinet and force early elections slammed the government.

Popular anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders called Balkenende’s Christian Democrat-led administration “a Cabinet with one foot in the grave” and called on the premier to quit.

But government lawmakers rallied around their embattled leader.

Arie Slob, leader of junior coalition partner Christian Union, said the letter, “makes clear the Cabinet is taking the report seriously.”