TONY Blair has issued a vigorous defence of his actions, saying that his decision to take the country to war was made in “good faith and what I believed to be the best interests of the country”.
He claims the Chilcot report clears him of either falsifying or misusing intelligence, deceiving the Cabinet, or making a “secret commitment to war with Mr Bush in 2002. . .
“I will take full responsibility for any mistakes without exception or excuse,” Mr Blair said in a statement issued immediately after the Chilcot report was published. “Nonetheless, I believe that it was better to remove Saddam Hussein, and I do not believe this is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world.”
Later on Wednesday, in a long and, at times, impassioned press conference, Mr Blair laid out in detail where he agreed and disagreed with Sir John Chilcot’s conclusions.
He began by saying that “no words can properly convey the grief and suffering of those who lost ones they loved in Iraq,” whether they were British soldiers or Iraqi citizens.
“The aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted, and bloody than ever we imagined. A nation whose people we wanted to set free and secure from the evil of Saddam became instead victim to sectarian terrorism. For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret, and apology than you may ever know or can believe.”
However, he said that he made the decision to go to war using the best information he had available at the time. And those who argue that the world would have been safer with Mr Hussein left in power were wrong.
“Saddam was himself a wellspring of terror, a continuing threat to peace and his own people.” If his regime had remained in place, Iraq would most likely have degenerated into the same bloody, sectarian civil war seen in Syria, come the Arab Spring in 2011.
Dismissing suggestions of a “rush to war”, Mr Blair said that, on the contrary, he helped persuade the Americans to pursue the UN route first, and only when that had hit an impasse, did the two nations agree to invade.
“I took this decision with the heaviest of hearts. There was no middle way, no further time for deliberation, no room for negotiation. I took it and I stand by it. I only ask with humility that the British people accept that I took this decision because I believed that it was the right thing to do.”
Many of Sir John’s criticisms about the planning for a post-Saddam Iraq were legitimate, Mr Blair accepted. But he refused to apologise for the decision to invade itself.
“What I cannot do and will not do is say we took the wrong decision,” he concluded. “I believe we took the right decision and world is better for it.” Anyone who disagreed must explain what the consequences of an alternative course of action would have been, he said forcefully. “If you can’t answer that question you’re a commentator, not a decision-maker.”
Shortly after the report was published, David Cameron made a statement on its findings in Parliament, as well as promising MPs a full two-day debate next week.
“This is a difficult day for all the families of those who lost loved ones,” Mr Cameron said, before summarising Sir John’s conclusions.
MPs like him who voted for the Iraq War “have to take our fair share of the responsibility,” the Prime Minister said. “We cannot turn the clock back.” And even when preparations are made properly, such as in the intervention in Libya in 2011, success cannot be guaranteed, as that nation’s plight today proves.
“Whatever else we learn from this conflict, we must all pledge this must never happen again.”
The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said that the war was an “act of military aggression launched on a false pretext . . . which has long been regarded as illegal by the overwhelming weight on international legal opinion”.
Rather than keeping us safe, the invasion and occupation fostered sectarianism and terrorism across the Middle East. “By any measure, the invasion of Iraq has been a catastrophe,” he concluded. The “governing class” had got it wrong, while “many of our people got it right”.
But even those who opposed the conflict at the time, including himself, could not take any satisfaction from Sir John’s report, Mr Corbyn also said. He made no mention of Mr Blair in his measured speech.
Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the only mainstream party to oppose the war in 2003, said that Mr Blair was Mr Bush’s “co-pilot, in taking this catastrophic decision which has destabilised Iraq, provided the hotbed for Da’esh [IS], and tarnished Britain’s reputation around the world.”
Some of the relatives of soldiers who died in Iraq gave their response to the report to the BBC. Eddie Hancock, whose 19-year-old son Jamie died in Basra in 2006, praised Sir John for fulfilling his promises to the families and not providing a whitewash.
Mr Blair had misled Parliament and undermined the UN and inflicted “grievous damage” on the UK and its armed forces, Mr Hancock said.
Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed inside his lightly-armoured Land Rover by a roadside bomb in 2004, said that she held Mr Blair responsible for his death.
Another parent, Roger Bacon, said that the lack of appropriate equipment was “without a shadow of a doubt” the cause of his son Matthew’s death. He said he was very pleased with what he had seen of the Chilcot report, but that conceded: “It’s not going to help me or my wife in dealing with the death of my son — the pain stays — but justice should be seen to be done.”
Pacifist groups, such as the Peace Pledge Union, have also called for high-ranking army officers to be held accountable, as well as politicians such as Mr Blair.
Symon Hill, the Union’s co-ordinator, said: “Blair did not fight the war single-handedly. Injustice is only powerful if people co-operate with it. The revolving door between the armed forces, the arms industry, and the Ministry of Defence means that a significant number of people have an interest in perpetuating war.”