Monday 27 March 2017

World is better after Iraq war, says Tony Blair

Tony Blair: ‘It would have been far better if I had challenged (the intelligence reports) more clearly’
Tony Blair: ‘It would have been far better if I had challenged (the intelligence reports) more clearly’

Dean Gray in London

Former British prime minister Tony Blair firmly believes that the world would be "in a worse position" had he not taken the decision to invade Iraq.

Following the release of the Chilcot report into the Iraq War, which was hugely critical of Mr Blair, he insisted that, despite the "terrible consequences", removing Saddam Hussein "moved with the grain" of what was to come in the region.

However, he accepted that it would have been "far better" if he had challenged intelligence on Iraq's weapons in the run-up to the war.

The Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 war was damning in its criticisms of Mr Blair's government and UK military chiefs. It said that Mr Blair had overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, that he sent troops into battle ill prepared and had "wholly inadequate" plans for the aftermath of the conflict.

But in an interview on the BBC yesterday, Mr Blair was adamant that although mistakes had been made, the decision to join the US-led invasion had been the right one.

Read more: Politicians call for Tony Blair to face trial over his role in taking Britain to war in Iraq

Roger Keys, Rose Gentle and Sarah O'Connor, relatives of military personnel killed during the Iraq War, speak at a news conference
Roger Keys, Rose Gentle and Sarah O'Connor, relatives of military personnel killed during the Iraq War, speak at a news conference

And he hit back at claims that he had secretly committed the UK to help US president George W Bush topple Saddam Hussein, then overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction in order to sell the war to the public and MPs.

In a December 2001 memo, Mr Blair said to Mr Bush that he would be "with you, whatever", before setting out some of the conditions that he believed the US would need to meet to attract support, including seeking UN authorisation.

Families

The Chilcot report said Saddam Hussein posed "no imminent threat" at the time of the invasion, which had been launched on the basis of "flawed" intelligence.

It also found that warnings about the increased risk of terrorist activity and regional instability had not been shared with the public and MPs.

The inquiry's chairman, Sir John Chilcot, said Mr Blair and his ministers should not have accepted the intelligence reports on Saddam's weapons at face value.

Mr Blair said he had relied on these reports, but acknowledged: "It would have been far better to have challenged them more clearly."

He added: "It wasn't that I wanted to believe it. I did believe it and one of the reasons for that was because Saddam Hussein had used these weapons against his own people."

Mr Blair told BBC interviewer John Humphrys people would not accept that he meant his regret over mistakes in the Iraq war until he disowned the decision to join the US coalition to topple Saddam Hussein.

But he said: "I don't believe this struggle was in vain."

Following the publication of the Chilcot report, Mr Blair held a two-hour press conference in which he apologised to the families of those killed in the Iraq war, accepting that they will never "forget or forgive him".

He said he felt sorrow and regret beyond what "people may ever know" at the loss of life.

A spokesman for some of the families of the 179 British service personnel and civilians killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 said their loved ones had died "unnecessarily and without just cause and purpose".

Troops

The spokesman said that all options were now being considered, including asking those responsible for the failures identified in the report to "answer for their actions in the courts if such process is found to be viable".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - who voted against military action - apologised on behalf of the party.

He said the report proved the Iraq war had been an "act of military aggression launched on a false pretext", something he said which has "long been regarded as illegal by the overwhelming weight of international opinion".

Irish Independent

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