TONY BLAIR has told how people are still “very abusive” to him 10 years after the Iraq War, adding that he has given up trying to “persuade people it was the right decision”
In comments which could be interpreted as self-pitying Mr Blair said that it did not matter whether the continuing controversy about Iraq had “taken a toll on me”.
He said that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was “20 times as bad” as Syria’s President Assad but admitted that it would take a “generation” to make Iraq safer than it was in 2003.
Mr Blair is still crticised for sending British troops into Iraq on March 20, 2003 in the mistaken belief that its Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
In the weeks leading up to the invasion, more than one million people marched through London against the Iraq invasion.
Asked in a candid interview on BBC2’s Newsnight whether he minded if “people call you a liar, some people call you a war criminal, protesters follow you; it’s difficult to walk down the street in a country”, he replied: “It really doesn’t matter whether it’s taken its toll on me.
“The fact is yes there are people who will be very abusive, by the way I do walk down the street and by the way I won an election in 2005 after Iraq. However, yes it remains extremely divisive and very difficult.”
Mr Blair conceded that he had “long since given up trying to persuade people it was the right decision”.
He added: “In a sense what I’ve tried to persuade people of now is understand how complex and difficult decision it was. Because I think if we don't understand that, we won’t take the right decision about a series of these problems that will arise over that next few years.
“You’ve got one in Syria right now, you’ve got one in Iran to come, and the issue is how do you make the world a safer place?”
He said: “The question is supposing I’d taken the opposite decision. Sometimes what happens in politics, unfortunately these things get mixed up with allegations, deceit, lying and so on but in the end sometimes you come to a decision where whichever decision you take the consequences are difficult and the choices ugly.
“This was one such case. If we hadn’t removed Saddam from power just think for example what would be happening if these Arab revolutions were continuing now and Saddam who’s probably twenty times as bad as Assad in Syria, was trying to suppress an uprising in Iraq.”
Mr Blair admitted that life in Iraq today was not what he had hoped for when he sanctioned the invasion by British troops 10 years ago.
He said: “There are still terrorist activities that are killing innocent people for no good reason. The country’s economy as a whole obviously is growing very strongly.
“It’s got huge amounts of oil revenue but no there are still problems… People have deliberately tried to destabilise the country and this is the problem you’ve got all over the region.”
With estimates of 100,000 civilians, and 179 British soldiers, killed since 2003, Mr Blair conceded that the price of the Iraq war had been “very, very high”.
But he added: “Think of the price that people paid before Saddam was removed. Think of the Iran-Iraq war in which there were one million casualties, hundreds of thousands of young conscript Iranians, who were killed, many of them by the use of chemical weapons.
“Chemical weapon attacks on his own people, the Kurds. People oppressed, deprived of their rights, tortured and killed on a daily basis year on year on year…”.
Asked if Iraq was “safer today”, he said: “No I wouldn’t say that. But what I would say is it is safer, in my view, as a result of getting rid of Saddam. In other words I think we are in the middle of this struggle, it’s going to take a generation, it’s going to be very arduous and difficult.
“But we are making a mistake, a profound error, if we think we can stay out of that struggle because we are going to be affected by it whether we like it or not.”
Sir Menzies Campbell, the former LibDem leader, accused Mr Blair of being defensive.
He said: “The fact remains that he made two cardinal errors. First by allying himself too closely to the policies of George W Bush and second by ignoring the fact that Bush's objective of regime change was contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and illegal.
“Ten years on, it is almost impossible to find anyone in this country or even in the United States who is willing to support the military action against Saddam Hussein.”