Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is in the eye of storm after the official probe into 2003 Iraq invasion drew a scathing indictment of UK’s participation in it. Blair, who was the Prime Minister, when UK participated in the US-led invasion of Iraq, has been subject to criticism in his own country earlier as well.
However, defending himself, the former Labour party leader said he takes “full responsibility” for any mistakes made but claimed that John Chilcot-led Inquiry commission makes clear there was no “falsification or improper use of intelligence”.
The bulky inquiry report, released on Wednesday, came down heavily on the Blair government concluding that the UK did not exhaust all peaceful options before joining the invasion of Iraq.
“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,” the former senior civil servant and head of the probe panel John Chilcot told the press pack in London.
Commenting on the ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ claims, as often made to justify the invasion, Mr. Chilcot was of view that Blair government’s judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction “was not justified” and the post-war planning was “wholly inadequate”.
The 12-volume, 2.6-million-word report on the 13-year-old war comes over seven years after the inquiry was ordered by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown. About 180 British soldiers were killed in the Iraq war from 2003 to 2009.
In a midst of deep criticism, the former UK Prime Minister claimed that the inquiry absolves him of any “lies or deceit” even as he expressed “sorrow and regret” for the 180 British soldiers who were killed.
“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,” Blair said in a statement.
The inquiry also took into account a note sent by Blair to then US President George W Bush on July 28, 2002, months before the invasion of Iraq, which according to the conclusions drawn indicated how early on the decision to go to war had begun to be crystallised.
Blair wrote “I will be with you, whatever. But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties. The planning on this and the strategy are the toughest yet”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament after the report that lessons must be learnt from the UK’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to ensure that war is always the last resort.
“There are some lessons that we do need to learn and frankly keep on learning. Taking the country to war should always be a last resort, and should only be done if all credible alternatives have been exhausted,” Cameron told MPs announcing a two-day parliamentary debate next week on the report’s findings.
Significantly, the inquiry also noted that the former Labour party leader had in fact been warned that military action against Hussein would increase the threat from al-Qaeda to the UK.
“He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists,” it finds.
Chilcot, however, does not pass judgement on whether the war was legal but concluded that the way the legal basis was dealt with before the March 20, 2003 invasion was far from satisfactory.
By July 2009, at least 1,50,000 Iraqis had died and more than 1 million were displaced.
(With inputs from the PTI)