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Blair expresses ‘sorrow and apology’ but defends Iraq war strategy

world Updated: Jul 06, 2016 22:08 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times
Chilcot report

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives to speak at a news conference in London on July 6, 2016, following the outcome of the Iraq Inquiry report. (AFP Photo)

Tony Blair exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and led Britain into the 2003 Iraq war on the basis of “flawed intelligence”, a seven-year inquiry that severely indicted the former prime minister and his government concluded on Wednesday.

A chastened Blair said he took “full responsibility” for mistakes made as the prime minister in leading Britain to invade Iraq and expressed “sorrow, regret and apology”. But he did not regret toppling Saddam, saying he made “the right decision and the world is better and safer”.

Almost every aspect of his government’s actions and decisions related to the Iraq war came in for trenchant criticism from the John Chilcot committee, whose 2.6-million-word report is likely to lead to Blair’s retrospective impeachment and legal action by relatives of 179 British soldiers who died in Iraq.

Critics said the report was too late in coming and only confirmed what was already known, but the committee’s level of criticism based on the examination of thousands of documents from 2001 to 2009 was hailed by those who had earlier alleged the inquiry was an “establishment stitch-up”.

Flaying the former Labour government’s Iraq-related decisions, party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in the House of Commons: “We now know that the House was misled in the run up to the war, and the House must now decide how it should deal with it 13 years later.”

He added, “Just as all those who took the decisions laid bare in the Chilcot report must face up to the consequences of their actions, whatever they may be.”

Blair was again accused of being a “war criminal” and “Blair” by protestors.

Detail of a declassified handwritten letter sent by the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to George Bush, former President of the United States, is seen as part of the Iraq Inquiry Report presented by Sir John Chilcot at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, In London, Britain July 6, 2016. (Reuters Photo)

Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat from Saddam, the report said, adding that the stated basis for going to war was flawed. The report cited instances to justify the conclusion and said there was poor planning to deal with the post-invasion situation.

Read| Probe slams Blair over Iraq war, UK ex-PM ‘will take full responsibility’

“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been,” John Chilcot, chairman of the inquiry, said in a statement before the report’s release.

“In the House of Commons on 24 September 2002, Mr Blair presented Iraq’s past, current and future capabilities as evidence of the severity of the potential threat from Iraq’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction). He said that, at some point in the future, that threat would become a reality,” Chilcot said.

Chilcot added: “The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities in that statement, and in the dossier published the same day, were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”

Responding to the report, Blair reiterated his position over the years: “I will take full responsibility for any mistakes without exception or excuse. I will at the same time say why, nonetheless, I believe that it was better to remove Saddam Hussein and why I do not believe this is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world.”

He added: “The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit. Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein, I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country.”

The Stop the War Coalition described the Chilcot report as a “damning indictment of Tony Blair and those around him” in taking Britain to war in Iraq. “It is clear that he used lies and deception to get his way, that the war was unnecessary and illegal and that everything was done to ensure it went ahead,” it said.

Relatives of the 179 British soldiers who died in Iraq went on television, hoping for justice, while hundreds of anti-war activists congregated outside the Queen Elizabeth II centre where the report was released, and outside Blair’s residence.

The five-member inquiry committee included Indian-origin Usha Prashar, a member of the House of Lords.

Read| India-Pakistan tensions pre-occupied UK before Iraq invasion