Former British prime minister Tony Blair voiced “sorrow, regret and apology” after a damning report on the Iraq war was released Wednesday, but said he did not mislead the British parliament and did not regret toppling Saddam Hussein.
“I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” said Blair, his voice breaking with emotion in a speech in central London.
However, he added: “As the report makes clear there were no lies, parliament and cabinet were not misled, there was no secret commitment to war.”
Blair insisted he acted in Britain’s “best interests” in pushing for the United Kingdom’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq invasion.
“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,” he said.
Blair made his comments at a press conference in London after publication of the long-awaited Chilcot report into Britain’s role in the US-led invasion of Iraq sharply criticized him.
The Chilcot report, named for Lord John Chilcot who led the investigation, said Britain joined the invasion before all other options had been exhausted and on the basis of false intelligence that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Though the inquiry found the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons “were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” the former premier stressed that there was no “falsification of intelligence.”
Blair said the decision to take Britain to war was the “most agonizing” he had ever taken, adding: “I will 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.
If Iraqi dictator Saddam had been allowed to remain in power in 2003 “he’d have once again threatened world peace,” Blair said, rejecting claims that the war itself increased the terror threat.
“Saddam was himself a wellspring of terror,” he said.
The inquiry, however, drew a different conclusion.
It found that “military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point. But in March 2003 there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed the Iraq war fueled a rise in terrorism worldwide, the effects of which we can see today in the attacks in Paris, Brussels, Ankara and Orlando.
However, the former prime minister dismissed the notion that the Iraq invasion was directly responsible for the current turmoil and violence in the region.
“I do not believe this (Saddam’s removal) is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world,” he said.
“At least in Iraq, for all its challenges, we have today a government that is elected, is recognized as internationally legitimate,” he added.
Britain’s scarring experience in Iraq has made the UK deeply wary of committing ground troops to international military interventions in countries like Syria and Libya.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron, responding to the report in parliament, stressed the need for Britain to “learn the lessons of the report.”
What John Chilcot says about the failure to plan is very, very clear,” Cameron said, according to the Guardian.
“We can argue whether military intervention is ever justified and I think it is, but planning for the aftermath is always difficult. I don’t think in this House we should be naive in any way that there’s a perfect set of plans that can solve these problems in perpetuity – there aren’t,” he said.