Saturday 24 February 2018

Fury as Blair stops short of full apology on Iraq

Former British PM Tony Blair
Former British PM Tony Blair
A displaced girl whose family fled from Isil violence in Hawijah looks at a member of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces as he keeps guard in the hills southwest of Kirkuk, Iraq. Photo: Reuters/Ako Rasheed

Peter Dominiczak London

Families of British soldiers killed in Iraq have told of their "revulsion" at Tony Blair's failure to give a full apology for the war and claimed that the Chilcot report will be "a cover-up".

Mr Blair used a CNN interview to apologise for elements of the Iraq war, prompting immediate accusations that he was attempting to "pre-empt" the publication of the report into the conflict by John Chilcot.

The former British prime minister expressed regret over the failure to plan properly for the aftermath of the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein and the false intelligence that was used to justify it. But he said he would "find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam".

Mr Blair has already been made aware of the criticism to be levelled against him in the report. His decision to apologise only for the false intelligence that was used to justify the invasion and the failure to plan for the aftermath prompted speculation that these are the only criticisms which Mr Chilcot will make of Mr Blair.

Mr Chilcot will next month tell Britain's prime minister David Cameron when he intends to publish his heavily delayed report, which was ordered by Gordion Brown in 2009.

Mr Blair told CNN: "I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong.

"Because even though he had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the programme in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought. So I can apologise for that.

"I can also apologise, by the way, for some of the mistakes in planning and certainly our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.

"But I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam. I think even from today in 2015, it is better that he's not there than that he is there."

Asked by presenter Fareed Zakaria if the Iraq War was "the principal cause" of the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Mr Blair said: "I think there are elements of truth in that.

"Of course, you can't say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015."

Reg Keys, whose son Lance Corporal Tom Keys was killed in Iraq in 2003, said: "I feel revulsion. This man certainly got it wrong - 179 British service personnel dead, 3,500 wounded.

"Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children that lost their lives. The guy has got to hold his hands up [and say], 'I got it wrong and I apologise.'"

Mr Keys added: "He is obviously pre-empting the Iraq inquiry's findings. It's finger-pointing. He's blaming intelligence chiefs for giving him the wrong intelligence.

"He is not apologising for toppling Saddam. What about apologising for the unnecessary loss of life? The reason we went to war was weapons of mass destruction, not to topple Saddam."

Mr Keys added: "The Chilcot report will be diluted. [It will] spread the blame thinly over everyone so they can't blame an individual."

Meanwhile, the United States and Saudi Arabia have dramatically responded to Russian air strikes in support of the Assad regime by agreeing to boost their military and diplomatic support for the Syrian rebels.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, met King Salman of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh for talks over the weekend.

Despite Russian leaders saying they had extracted promises of fresh elections from President Bashar al-Assad, Mr Kerry and the Saudi ruler presented a common front in agreeing to hit the regime harder.

"They pledged to continue and intensify support to the moderate Syrian opposition while the political track is being pursued," the State Department later said in a statement.

This was the first public acknowledgement of a surge in the number of anti-tank missiles that have been passed to specially vetted rebel groups from the Free Syrian Army since Russian jets began operations at the end of September. The rebels' use of American-made TOW missiles has increased ninefold, slowing the regime's offensives across the country.

Under previous interventions by the Obama administration, commitments to increase supplies to the rebels have followed several weeks after the supplies have started to arrive. The statement also represents a new determination to take on not only the regime but Russia.

US and Saudi joint support for rebels, including Islamists, in Afghanistan three decades ago forced Russian troops out and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Irish Independent

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