Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has finally apologised for the Iraq War – and admitted he could be partly to blame for the rise of Islamic State (ISIS).
The frank confession comes after 12 years in which he steadfastly refused to say sorry for the conflict, but the timing of his newfound penitence has been flagged up as perhaps yet another shrewd political move, rather than one of sorrow and conviction.
Mr Blair makes his qualified admission during a TV interview about the “hell” caused by his and then U.S. President George W. Bush’s decision to oust dictator Saddam Hussein. He repeatedly says sorry for his conduct, and references claims that the invasion was a war “crime” – while denying he committed one – but he said doesn’t regret bringing down Saddam.
But the words come at a time when the Trans-Atlantic focus on Iraq is once again dovetailing. In the United States, the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has recently lashed out at his running mate Jeb Bush for his brother’s spearheading of the Iraq War.
In the United Kingdom, we have recently been told that the Chilcot Inquiry – a judge-led investigation into the Iraq War, taking both U.S. and UK sources into account, is rumoured to be published in the next few weeks. The report has taken six years and cost over £10 million in tax payer money.
Blair – who the Guardian hints may be embarking on a PR-stunt ahead of the release of Chilcot – is asked bluntly in the CNN interview, to be broadcast today: “Was the Iraq War a mistake?”
He replies: “I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong. I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
Challenged that the Iraq War was “the principal cause” of the rise of ISIS, he 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.”
And Mr. Blair’s statements in public could indeed be a ploy to try and get Sir John Chilcot to reopen his enquiry, especially if the conclusions he draws differ from the admissions made in the interview.
This would provide a boon to Gov. Jeb Bush, whose campaign will no doubt be concerned about the contents of the report coming out during the Republican primary process: handing priceless ammunition to his opponents, and drawing his brother, George W. Bush, back into the public fold.
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) October 25, 2015
The Iraq War and dismantling of Saddam’s government plunged Iraq into chaos, resulting in years of deadly sectarian violence and the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq, a precursor of ISIS. Tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,000 U.S. troops were killed in the lengthy conflict.
Operation Telic was the codename for British operations in Iraq, which lasted from 19 March 2003 to 22 May 2011. During the campaign, 179 British service personnel died (six of them female) and many more were wounded. Of the 179 fatalities, 136 personnel were classified as having been killed in hostile circumstances, with the remaining 43 losing their lives as a result of illness, accidents/friendly fire, or suicide.
As the most high-profile foreign ally of President Bush in the Iraq invasion and the long conflict that followed, Mr Blair is also accused of being Mr Bush’s “poodle” in the interview.
Blair’s confession comes a week after a White House memo was published in London revealing for the first time how Blair and Bush agreed a ‘deal in blood’ a year before the invasion.
A 2002 briefing note from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the President showed Blair had secretly pledged to back the conflict – while telling MPs and British voters that he was seeking a diplomatic solution.
Mr Blair candidly asks for forgiveness for his blunder in not realising “what would happen once you removed the regime”.