Blair desperately defends legacy after damning Iraq Inquiry

Blair desperately defends legacy after damning Iraq Inquiry
Video: Former British PM Tony Blair said he acted in Britain's 'best interests' during the Iraq war after the Chilcot Inquiry condemned his handling of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
6 min read
06 July, 2016

Chilcot 2

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his leadership during the 2003 Iraq invasion, after the Chilcot Inquiry delivered a damning verdict into his handling of the war.

Blair - who was in the firing line in the Iraq Inquiry - was quick to defend his reputation after the report was published. 

The Labour leader was a chief architect in the argument for the invasion of Iraq, and pushed parliament into accepting the war despite widespread popular opposition.

On Wednesday, the report into Blair's handling of the run up to war was published after seven year's of deliberations.

Blair was quick to issue a statement shortly after the report went public, and held a lengthy press conference hours later.

During the address, the former PM apologised for faults during the lead up, but remained resolute that he ultimately did the right thing in toppling Saddam Hussein.

"I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer," he said during the press conference.

He voiced "sorrow, regret and apology" for the suffering, but insists the decision to go to war was made in good faith and after careful consideration.

It was the "most agonising" decision he had ever made, but he would "never agree that those who died or were injured... made their sacrifice in vain".

"I knew it was not a popular decision... I did it because I thought it was right and because I thought the human cost of inaction... would be greater for us and for the world in the longer term," he said.

He said that had Saddam Hussein remained in power he would have continued to threaten world peace.

"Saddam was himself a wellspring of terror," he said.

"At least in Iraq, for all its challenges, we have today a government that is elected, is recognised as internationally legitimate."

Damning report

The report outlined a catalogue of errors by Blair, military generals and intelligence chiefs during the preperations and execution of the Iraq invasion.

The war would throw Iraq into chaos which resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqis being killed in an ongoing civil war.

Following allegations that Blair "blindly" went along with US war plans, the former PM was desperate to defend his legacy.

"The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit," he said in a statement issued by his office.

"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."

Inquiry findings

Findings of a long-delayed inquiry into the UK'ss role in the Iraq war were presented by retired civil servant John Chilcot on Wednesday, more than seven years after hearings began and 13 years from the start of the US-led war.

According to the Chilcot report, Blair took his country into a badly planned, woefully executed and legally questionable war in Iraq in 2003.

The report also found the decision to join the US-led invasion was taken before all other options had been exhausted and based on false intelligence.

Blair faced particular criticism after pledging to support US president George W. Bush the year before the invasion "whatever" happened and failing to ensure "there was a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan".

At least 150,000 Iraqis had died by the time most British troops withdrew in 2009, while 179 British soldiers also lost their lives. The country remains plagued by sectarian violence.

The report also found the decision to join the US-led invasion was taken before all other options had been exhausted and based on false intelligence.

The UK's experience in Iraq has made it deeply wary of committing ground troops to international military interventions in countries like Syria and Libya.

Unveiling the 2.6 million-word report - which took seven years to complete - Chilcot said it was "an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day".

More than 100 anti-war protesters gathered outside the conference centre where the report was published, with many shouting: "Blair lied, thousands died" and "war criminal Tony Blair".

'I will be with you, whatever'

Although the legality of the invasion was not in his remit, retired civil servant Chilcot said the process of deciding the legal basis for war was "far from satisfactory".

"We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort," Chilcot said.

The war was justified on the basis that the Iraq leader had weapons of mass destruction, although no such weapons were never found.

The report laid the blame for this failure firmly on the intelligence community, but said the government had "overstated the firmness of the evidence" about Iraq's capabilities and intentions.

John Chilcot presented the report on Wednesday [AFP]

It confirmed long-held suspicions that Blair put the UK on a path to war as early as July 2002, when he wrote a letter to Bush, saying: "I will be with you, whatever."

Blair was also criticised for failing to challenge Bush on the lack of planning for the aftermath of the invasion and called British plans for managing the occupation post-invasion "wholly inadequate".

The report also said Blair had "overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq".

The inquiry dismissed Blair's assertion that it was not possible to predict the strength of local opposition, the rise of al-Qaeda and the involvement of Iran, which fuelled the violence, saying these were "explicitly identified before the invasion".

Relatives of some of the dead soldiers attended the report's publication.

Blair apologised last year for the fact the intelligence was wrong, and for mistakes in the planning, but said he did not regret removing Saddam.

He is expected to address reporters later on Wednesday on the report, but his reputation is already in tatters over a conflict that most now believe was a mistake, and some believe was a war crime.

'People should be accountable'

Protesters hope the inquiry will contribute to their ongoing battle to have Blair held to account for his actions.

"Tony Blair and those who supported the war should be brought to a court of law and be prosecuted," said John Loyd, a 70-year-old protester outside the venue where Chilcot spoke.

"If we call us a civilised country then people should be accountable for the results of what they did," he added, holding up a sign saying: "Justice for Iraq. The Hague for Blair".

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has said it will consider the report but has no investigation open. The legality of the war is outside its jurisdiction.

The war, which at one point saw 46,000 British troops deployed, mostly in southern Iraq around the strategic oil hub of Basra, still looms large over British politics.

Jeremy Corbyn, current leader of the party Blair once headed, Britain's Labour party, is hoping to use the Chilcot report to see off a rebellion by his own MPs over what they see as his lacklustre campaigning against Britain leaving the EU.

He was only picked as leader last year, strongly opposed the war in Iraq, while many of his critics had supported it.

MPs will take part in a two-day debate on the findings.

Agencies contributed to this story.