Tony Blair apology for Iraq War is the start of a spin operation ahead of Chilcot report, SNP claim

'What we are seeing is that the tapestry of deceit which was manufactured by Labour is unravelling'

Andy McSmith
Sunday 25 October 2015 22:16 GMT
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Tony Blair interviewed on CNN
Tony Blair interviewed on CNN (CNN)

Tony Blair’s qualified apology for sending British troops to war in Iraq 12 years ago is the “start of a cynical spin operation” ahead of the publication of the Chilcot report, the SNP has claimed.

The former Prime Minister said that he was sorry that he accepted intelligence reports that the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, still held weapons of mass destruction, which he had once used against his own people. But he was not sorry for bringing Saddam’s brutal regime down.

The former Prime Minister’s qualified apology was made during a sympathetic interview in America, where his political standing is higher than in the UK – and appears to have been timed to remove some of the sting of the forthcoming Chilcot report into the Iraq war.

He told CNN: “I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong because, even though he had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, the programme did not exist in the way that we thought.”

He added: “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. But I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam. I think, even from today in 2015, it is better that he’s not there.”

Asked by his television host Fareed Zakaria, in an interview broadcast on CNN Europe on 25 October, whether the war had contributed to the rise of Isis, Mr Blair replied: “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.”

However, while Mr Blair was admitting mistakes around the invasion, he has never deviated from his view that military action, which cost the lives of 179 British service personnel, was justified. He has implicitly criticised Ed Miliband for opposing military intervention in Syria.

“We have tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq; we’ve tried intervention without putting in troops in Libya; and we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria,” he said. “It’s not clear to me that, even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies have worked better.”

Asked how it felt to be branded a war criminal, he replied: “When I think of my ‘crime’, if you like, which is removing Saddam, and we’ve watched Syria unfold with hundreds of thousands dying … and we have stood back, we in the West bear responsibility for this, Europe most of all. We’ve done nothing.”

He added: “By the way, I always point out to people, I did actually win an election after Iraq, but I agree it’s been a huge political problem.”

There was speculation that the timing of the former Prime Minister’s remarks was linked to the forthcoming Chilcot report into the Iraq war, which is believed to be close to publication, more than six years after Sir John Chilcot opened the inquiry. Publication was delayed so that everyone criticised in the report had a chance to see what was being said about them and to respond. All the responses are now in, though no publication date has been announced.

Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP in the Commons, said: “Tony Blair’s comments are plainly the start of a cynical spin operation ahead of the expected timetable announcement for publication of the Chilcot report. What we are seeing is that the tapestry of deceit which was manufactured by Labour – the pretence of making an illegal war legal – is unravelling. Nobody will be fooled by Tony Blair’s weasel words.”

A spokeswoman for the former PM said: “Tony Blair has always apologised for the intelligence being wrong and for mistakes in planning. He has always also said that he does not, however, think it was wrong to remove Saddam.

“He did not say the decision to remove Saddam in 2003 ‘caused Isis’ and pointed out that Isis was barely heard of at the end of 2008. He went on to say in 2009, Iraq was relatively more stable. What then happened was a combination of two things: there was a sectarian policy pursued by the government of Iraq, which were mistaken policies. But also when the Arab Spring began, Isis moved from Iraq into Syria, built themselves from Syria and then came back into Iraq. All of this he has said before.”

Blair’s apologies: What he said

On whether the decision to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime was a mistake:

“I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong.”

“Even though [Saddam] had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the programme in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought, so I can apologise for that.”

“I can also apologise… for mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you remove the regime. But I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam. I think even from today, in 2015, it is better that he’s not there than that he is there.”

On the accusation that the invasion of Iraq was “the principal cause” of the rise of Isis:

“I think there are elements of truth in that.”

“Of course you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015. But it’s important also to realise… that the Arab Spring which began in 2011 would have had its impact on Iraq today, and… Isis actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not Iraq.”

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