21 Jan 2011

Blair admits regret over deaths in Iraq

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is heckled at the Iraq Inquiry as he admits “deep” regret for the loss of life during the war, and says force may be needed to tackle the “looming challenge” of Iran.

It was the most passionate moment of his four-hour session of evidence to the inquiry, triggered by one member of the panel suggesting that the invasion of Iraq had been counter-productive in terms of combatting nuclear proliferation.

Sir Roderic Lyne said that one of the drivers of the decision to “deal with” Saddam Hussein and Iraq had been the hope that it would send a powerful signal to countries like Iran and North Korea, which were trying to develop nuclear weapons.

“Iran – with North Korea – was a country of the highest concern…and it is a country of even higher concern now,” said Sir Roderic. “So was the effect of the action that we took in Iraq – at least in regard to nuclear proliferation – the reverse of what we intended?”

“The West has got to get out of this wretched posture of apology for believing that we are responsible for what the Iranians are doing or what these extremists are doing.” Tony Blair

But Mr Blair said the answer to Iran was not Saddam. By trying to use him against Iran in the 1980s the West had “created a monster we could not control”.

“This is a looming and coming challenge,” said Mr Blair, who is now acting as a Middle East peace envoy.

Iraq and Tony Blair - the gift of hindsight
Our Iraq Inquiry Blogger on Tony Blair's session and how, as last time, the final word went to the bereaved:

"As I write the stenographers and checkers are still grappling with the transcript of today's marathon session (which, when completed, will appear here). But surely one of the most-repeated words both in Tony Blair's questioning and in his replies was 'hindsight.'

"With the benefit of hindsight. Speaking in hindsight. Would one change that in hindsight?

"That same hindsight should have prepared Inquiry-watchers not to expect any truly dramatic twists or turns today. Mr.Blair has had not just one previous witness session but almost eight years to confirm for himself why (in his mind at the very least) the actions that he and President Bush embarked on were the right ones.

"One by one the trapdoors apparently primed by recent Inquiry disclosures (such as this one) failed to fly open..."

Read more: Iraq and Tony Blair - the gift of hindsight
Tony Blair at the Iraq Inquiry (Reuters)

“I am out in that region the whole time and I see the influence of Iran everywhere. It is negative, de-stabilising, supportive of terrorist groups. It is doing everything it can to impede progress in the Middle East peace process.

“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 this wretched posture of apology for believing that we are responsible for what the Iranians are doing or what these extremists are doing.

“We are not. They are doing it because they disagree fundamentally with our way of life and they will carry on doing it unless they are met by the requisite determination and, if necessary, force.”

Despite an admission that there was an “inconsistency” between his position that a second United Nations resolution was not needed to authorise the invasion of Iraq – and that of the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, that it was – the inquiry team drew out little new from the former Prime Minister on the decision to go to war.

He said that he did not make public Lord Goldsmith’s doubts – which were eventually reversed – because he did not want to allow even a “chink of light” to be seen between the United States’ position and that of Britain because of the damage that would do to the international coalition which had been built up against Saddam.

Mr Blair began the session looking tense and ended it close to tears as he expressed his “regrets” over those killed in Iraq.

“At the conclusion of the last hearing you asked me whether I had any regrets. I took that as a question about the decision to go to war and I answered that I took responsibility,” he said.

“That was taken as my meaning that I had no regrets about the loss of life. That was never my meaning or intention. 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 the people of Iraq or the Iraqis themselves.”

Though he appeared genuinely moved, the parents of some of the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq, who were among the spectators for the session, shouted “too late” and “you’ve had years”.

Two parents turned their backs and left the room, while Rose Gentle, whose son – 19-year-old Fusilier Gordon Gentle – was killed in Basra in 2004, shouted: “Your lies killed my son. I hope you can live with it” as Mr Blair walked out.

The anti-war protests outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster were not so large as on the last occasion that Mr Blair gave evidence to the inquiry, though “Bliar” and “Tony Blair – War Criminal” placards were still in evidence.

The barrister, Michael Mansfield, has told Channel 4 News that he will again ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider whether there is prima facie evidence to bring a war crimes case against Mr Blair.