Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his decision to take the country to war in Iraq, saying that “there was no middle way” for the UK at the time he decided to join the US to wage war against Saddam Hussein, and that the world would have been worse off had Britain not joined the war in 2003.
Speaking at a press conference following the release of the hugely anticipated Iraq Inquiry by former civil servant Sir John Chilcot, a visibly emotional Blair said:
“My duty as Prime Minister at that moment in 2003 was to do what I thought was right. At moments of crisis like this it is the profound obligation of the person leading the country to decide.”
“The human cost of inaction would be greater for us and the world,” Blair said. “It is claimed by some that by removing Saddam we caused the terrorism in the Middle East today. I profoundly disagree with that statement.”
“If he had been left in power in 2003, then I believe he would have once again threatened world peace and when the Arab revolutions of 2011 began, he would have clung to power with the same deadly consequences that we see in the carnage of Syria today.”
Blair argued that the failure of western governments to intervene in Syria led to more people dying than in the whole of the Iraq conflict and the worst refugee crisis since World War 2, with no agreement for future.
“At least with all challenges of Iraq, [there is a government fighting terrorism] … and a Prime Minister welcomed in the White House and capitals all across the globe.”
“The world was, and is in my judgment a better place without Saddam Hussein.”
Blair also said that one of the factors that influenced the decision to go to war was the fear of a 9/11-style terrorist attack in the UK.
“Back then, barely more than a year from 9/11, in late 2002, in early 2003, you’re seeing the intelligence mount up on WMDs, you’re doing so in the changed context of mass casualties caused by a new and virulent form of terrorism, you have at least to consider the possibility of a 9/11 here in Britain,” he said.
At the point that Blair decided that the UK should go to war, he said, the country had reached “the point of binary decision.” Blair had to choose whether it was: “Right to remove Saddam or not. Right to act with the US or not. The report itself said this was a stark choice, and it was.”
Blair, who frequently looked as though he had to fight back tears throughout the conference, called the choice to enter Iraq the “most agonising decision” of his premiership, and reiterated that he accepts full responsibility for the UK’s involvement in the war.
“The decision to go to war in Iraq was the hardest most momentous, most agonising decision I took in my 10 years as Prime Minister. For that decision today, I accept full responsibility. I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe. I recognise the decision felt by many in our country. I feel deeply and sincerely — and in a way no words can properly convey — the grief and suffering of those who lost loved ones.”
“The intelligence assessment turned out to be wrong, the aftermath turned out to be more hostile. A nation whose people we wanted to set free instead became the victim of sectarian terrorism. For all of this I express sorrow and regret.”
Blair focused on a range of issues covered by the Chilcot Report, and addressed the oft-made assertion that he did not tell the truth about his motives for going to war: “As the report makes clear, there were no lies. There was no secret commitment to war.”
In an earlier statement, Blair said: “The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit. 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.”
“I will take full responsibility for any mistakes without exception or excuse.
“I will at the same time say why, nonetheless, I believe that it was better to remove Saddam Hussein and why I do not believe this is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world.”
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