Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Saturday said he was sorry for the “mistakes” committed in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, but stopped short of apologizing for ousting then-Iraq president Saddam Hussein.
“I can say that I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong because, even though he had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the program in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought,” the former British prime minister said in an interview with American news channel.
Blair was referring to the claim that Saddam’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, a claim the US and its allies used to justify the Iraq invasion. But the intelligence reports the claim was based on turned out to be false.
Blair, who served as prime minister between 1997 and 2007, has repeatedly denied rushing to war. Under his leadership, Britain made the second biggest troop contribution to the Iraq invasion, and British forces were stationed in the country until 2011.
The US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s government and pushed Iraq into chaos, resulting in years of deadly sectarian violence and the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq, a precursor of the extremist group now known as Daesh.
The decision to back the Iraq invasion is now deeply unpopular in Britain and has haunted Blair’s Labour Party ever since.
Although Blair said he apologizes “for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime”, he stopped short of a full apology for the war or for ousting Saddam and eventually sending him to his death.
“I find it hard to apologize for removing Saddam. I think, even from today in 2015, it is better that he’s not there than that he is there,” Blair said.
Blair also admitted partial responsibility for eventual the rise of the extremist group Daesh and that the 2003 Iraq invasion was the principle cause behind it.
“Of course, you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015,” he said.
“But it’s important also to realize, one, that the Arab Spring which began in 2011 would also have had its impact on Iraq today, and two, ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.”
The former British PM’s apology comes on the heels of a report that claims he was committed to joining the United States in the Iraq war a year before the 2003 invasion.
The revelations from documents obtained by a UK newspaper focus on a memo allegedly written by former US secretary of state Colin Powell on March 28, 2002 to then president George Bush a week before the US leader’s meeting with Blair at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
“On Iraq, Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary,” wrote Powell, in a document the Mail on Sunday published on its website.
“He is convinced on two points: the threat is real; and success against Saddam will yield more regional success,” Powell said, referring to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who was eventually ousted in the 2003 US-led invasion.
The newspaper, the Mail on Sunday, said the memo and other sensitive documents were part of a batch of secret emails held on the private server of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton which US courts have forced her to reveal.
A separate quote from Powell assured Bush “the UK will follow our lead in the Middle East”, while other statements suggest Blair’s willingness to present “strategic, tactical and public affairs lines” to strengthen public support for the Iraq war.
A controversial inquiry by former civil servant John Chilcot into the decisions leading up to the war was expected to take a year to report, but is still not public despite being announced by the government six years ago.
“This story is nothing new. The memo is consistent with what Mr Blair was saying publicly at the time and with Mr Blair´s evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry” said a spokesperson for Blair’s office.