BBC World News & Al Jazeera – 2011-01-21 22:35:26
Blair ‘Regrets’ Iraq War Dead
(January 21, 2011) — Tony Blair has told an inquiry into Britain’s role in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that he profoundly regretted the loss of life in the conflict.
His remarks to the inquiry — the second time the former British prime minister has appeared before the investigation — sparked angry shouts of “too late” from dead soldiers’ families attending the proceedings in London.
Blair said that his comments at his first hearing last year when he said that he had “no regret” had been misunderstood.
“That was taken as my meaning that I had no regrets about the loss of life and that was never my meaning or my intention,” he said.
“I wanted to make that clear that of course I regret deeply and profoundly the loss of life, whether from our own armed forces, those of other nations, the civilians who helped people in Iraq or the Iraqis themselves.”
His words sparked an angry response from the packed public gallery, where a number of relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq were sitting. Blair sent 45,000 British troops as part of the US-led invasion in March 2003.
Several shouted out that his words were “too late” and two women stood up, deliberately turning their backs to Blair, before they were asked to be quiet.
“Your lies killed my son, I hope you can live with yourself,” shouted Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon was killed in 2006 while serving in Basra, southern Iraq, as Blair left the hearing.
‘Questions to Answer’
Outside the central London venue, dozens of anti-war demonstrators gathered held up banners calling Blair a liar and chanting “Tony Blair to The Hague,” where war crimes tribunals are held.
Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera’s correspondent at the inquiry, said: “This hearing was all about nailing down some specific points after Tony Blair’s initial evidence more than a year ago.
“Really it was about looking at the legality of going into Iraq without a second UN resolution.
“Tony Blair admitted his senior law officer had said it probably would be against the law to do that, but he [Blair] took a political position.
“Also we heard that after 9/11 Tony Blair decided there and then that if the Americans were intent on regime change in Iraq, then he would stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
“It’s expected the report [of the inquiry] will be published in a few months … but for Tony Blair there are many people who believe he still has questions to answer.”
Earlier, Blair told the inquiry that he had privately assured George Bush, the US president at the time, that “you can count on us”, eight months before the invasion.
While Blair stopped short of saying he had promised Bush unconditional military support in early 2002, as critics claim, he said he had always agreed that Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader, had to be dealt with.
“I accept entirely I was going to be with America in handling this,” he told the London inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war, describing conversations between himself and Bush in summer 2002.
“What I was saying to President Bush was very clear and simple, you can count on us, we are going to be with you in tackling this. But there are difficulties.”
The private note to Bush remain secrets, despite calls for it to be published by John Chilcot, the inquiry chairman and a former civil servant.
‘Up for It’
The timing of the decision for military action is an important issue for opponents of the war, who accuse Blair and Bush of being set on invasion regardless of its legality or whether it had backing from the UN.
Blair sent 45,000 British troops as part of the US-led invasion in March 2003, was making his second appearance at the inquiry after being recalled to clarify evidence he gave at a hearing in January last year.
He repeated his message from his January 2010 appearance that the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US had changed the calculus of risk, meaning they had to deal with Saddam as he posed a threat to the world and was refusing to comply with the UN.
Facing a far more forensic probe of decisions he had taken, Blair said regime change in Iraq was on the cards immediately after the 9/11 attacks unless Saddam changed tack.
“If it became the only way to deal with this issue then we were going to be up for it,” Blair said.
He said he had persuaded Bush to seek UN backing.
A statement he gave to the inquiry also revealed he had disregarded advice from the government’s top lawyer, given in January 2003, warning an invasion of Iraq would be illegal without a specific UN resolution.
Peter Goldsmith, the attorney general, only changed his mind shortly before the invasion, and Blair said he viewed the earlier advice as “provisional” and believed it would change when Goldsmith became aware of the UN negotiations.
The decision to go to war was one of the most controversial episodes of Blair’s 10-year premiership which ended in 2007, leading to massive protests and accusations he had deliberately misled the public over the reasons for the invasion.
Alistair Campbell, Blair’s former communications chief and one of his closest advisers until he resigned in late 2003, said people still felt angry about the war.
“Some people who actually really liked Tony Blair when he became prime minister … they will never forgive him for Iraq,” he told Sky News.
The inquiry, which began in November 2009, was set up by Blair’s successor Gordon Brown to learn lessons from the conflict and is not designed to assign guilt or blame to any individual.
Hostility over Iraq continues to dog Blair, 57, now an envoy for the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers — the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN.
Tony Blair ‘Regrets’ Iraq Dead in Chilcot Grilling
BBC World News
Tony Blair has said he “regrets deeply and profoundly the loss of life” during and after the 2003 Iraq war.
The ex-PM said his refusal to express regret for the decisions that led to war at his first appearance before the committee had been misinterpreted.
But his words were met with cries of “too late” from the public gallery.
Mr Blair also urged the West to stop apologising for its actions and warned of the threat from Iran, during a four-hour grilling by the inquiry.
Asked whether what had happened in Iraq had made the risk from Iran and other countries developing nuclear weapons worse, rather than better, he said: “I don’t think so.”
Mr Blair, who is now a UN Middle East peace envoy, said there was “a looming and coming challenge” from Iran.
“I am out in that region the whole time. I see the impact and influence of Iran everywhere. It is negative, destabilising and it is supportive of terrorist groups,” Mr Blair told the inquiry.
He said Iran “is doing everything it can to impede progress in the Middle East peace process, and to facilitate a situation in which that region cannot embark on a process of modernisation it so urgently needs”.
He added: “And this is not because we have done something. At some point — and I say this to you with all the passion I possibly can — the West has got to get out of what I think is this wretched policy, or posture, of apology for believing that we are causing what the Iranians are doing, or what these extremists are doing. The fact is we are not.
“The fact is they are doing it because they disagree fundamentally with our way of life and they will carry on doing it unless they are met with the requisite determination and, if necessary, force.”
In a personal statement at the end of his evidence session, Mr Blair said it was never his “meaning or intention” to say he had no regrets about the loss of life in Iraq when he appeared before the Iraq inquiry last January.
“I wanted to make that clear, that of course, I regret deeply and profoundly the loss of life, whether from our own armed forces, those of other nations, the civilians who helped people in Iraq, or the Iraqis themselves and I just wanted to say that because it is right to say that and it is what I feel.”
Committee chairman Sir John Chilcot had to tell the public gallery to be quiet as some members shouted “too late”.
Several people walked out and Rose Gentle, whose son was killed in Iraq, told the former prime minister that she did not believe him, adding: “I hope you can live with it”.
Earlier, Mr Blair revealed that he had privately assured US President George Bush “you can count on us” eight months before the invasion.
He also revealed he disregarded Lord Goldsmith’s warning that attacking Iraq would be illegal without further UN backing because the advice was “provisional”.
The ex-PM said he had believed his top legal officer would change his position on whether a second UN resolution justifying force was needed when he knew the full details of the negotiations.
Sir John repeated his call for the private statements Mr Blair made to Mr Bush and then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld in July 2002, to be made public, saying the panel was “disappointed” that this had not happened.
The panel have seen the notes but they will remain secret after Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell said releasing them would compromise diplomatic confidentiality.
Mr Blair said that, although he agreed with Sir Gus’s decision, he was “not going to hide behind the cabinet secretary”.
Summing up the contents of the statements, he said he had told Mr Bush: “You can count on us, we are going to be with you in tackling this, but here are the difficulties.”
The message he wanted to get across, he added, was “whatever the political heat, if I think this is the right thing to do I am going to be with you, I am not going to back out if the going gets tough. On the other hand, here are the difficulties and the UN route is the right way to go”.
‘Tapestry of Deceit’
Mr Blair was also quizzed about apparent discrepancies between what he told the committee in January 2010 and recent statements to the committee by his Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.
Lord Goldsmith said he had been “uncomfortable” with statements Mr Blair made in the Commons ahead of the war suggesting Iraq could be attacked without UN authorisation, when he was warning at the time that such a move would be illegal.
Mr Blair said he was also “uncomfortable” at the time but was trying to make the “political” case for military action, rather than a “legal declaration”.
Asked if Lord Goldsmith’s legal doubts constrained him from making a commitment to the US, Mr Blair said “No”, adding that airing legal doubts at that time would have damaged the coalition and encouraged Saddam.
He said he was convinced that if Lord Goldsmith spoke to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK’s then ambassador to the UN, and to “the Americans” he would change his mind on the legality of war, which turned out to be the case.
Mr Blair issued a 26-page written statement ahead of his appearance in response to more than 100 detailed questions from the inquiry panel, in which, among other things, he set out the process by which he said Lord Goldsmith changed his mind.
The inquiry also released a note from Mr Blair to Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, shortly before his visit to then US President George Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, in which he argued that Labour should be “gung-ho” about dealing with Saddam Hussein.
Giving his reaction to Mr Blair’s appearance, Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Mr Blair’s “evangelical, even messianic, determination” to confront Saddam Hussein meant he had ignored anyone with misgivings.
The public were not given the “full information” about the extent of division in the government over the issue, he told the BBC.
SNP leader and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond accused Mr Blair of weaving a “tapestry of deceit”.
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