Tony Blair has finally said sorry for the Iraq War – and admitted he could be partly to blame for the rise of Islamic State [Daesh].
The extraordinary confession by the former Prime Minister comes after 12 years in which he refused to apologise for the conflict.
Blair makes his dramatic ‘mea culpa’ during a TV interview about the ‘hell’ caused by his and George Bush’s decision to oust Saddam Hussein.
In the exchange, Blair repeatedly says sorry for his conduct and even refers to claims that the invasion was a war ‘crime’ – while denying he committed one.
Blair is asked bluntly in the CNN interview, to be broadcast today: ‘Was the Iraq War a mistake?’
He replies: ‘I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong.
‘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.’
Challenged that the Iraq War was ‘the principal cause’ of the rise of Islamic State, he said: ‘I think there are elements of truth in that.
In the ‘trial by TV’, respected US political broadcaster Fareed Zakaria accuses him of being President Bush’s ‘poodle’ over the conflict. Blair’s confession comes a week after The Mail on Sunday published a bombshell White House memo revealing for the first time how Blair and Bush agreed a ‘deal in blood’ a year before the invasion.
A 2002 briefing note from US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the President showed Blair had secretly pledged to back the conflict – while telling MPs and British voters that he was seeking a diplomatic solution.
In his CNN interview, Blair candidly asks for forgiveness for his blunder in not realising ‘what would happen once you removed the regime’.
The admission makes a mockery of the statement in the Powell memo that Blair would ‘demonstrate [to Bush] that we have thought through “the day after” ’ – a reference to the consequences of invasion.
However, the bloody chaos in the region continues to this day. And in a separate development, former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett has revealed that he challenged Blair before the war about avoiding chaos after Saddam’s downfall.
Lord Blunkett says Blair failed to give him such ‘reassurances’ – and instead placed blind faith in the two main ‘hawks’ in the US administration, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Lord Blunkett also vented his fury that Sir John Chilcot, who is leading the long-delayed inquiry into the Iraq War, had failed to ask him to give evidence.
‘Given my front-row seat at these events, I am mystified Chilcot has not asked me to provide either oral or written evidence,’ Lord Blunkett told The Mail on Sunday.
‘I would have thought that over the six years the inquiry has been going on, Sir John would have found the time to ask the then-Home Secretary what he knew.’
Blair’s confession about the Iraq War and the rise of IS is in stark contrast to his repeated refusal to shoulder the blame for the conflict, or its long term consequences. In 2004, he told MPs: ‘I will not apologise for the conflict. I believe it was right.’
He stuck to his hard line in 2007, saying: ‘I don’t think we should be apologising at all for what we are doing in Iraq.’
Remarkably, Blair himself predicted how the apology U-turn he finally makes today would be reported.
In his 2010 memoirs, he explained why he had so far refused to say ‘yes’ when asked if he was sorry, because he knew it would prompt damaging headlines.
‘Answer “Yes” and I knew the outcome: “BLAIR APOLOGISES FOR WAR”, “AT LAST HE SAYS SORRY”. I can’t say sorry in words.’
His apology is bound to prompt claims that he is trying to head off the scathing criticism of his handling of the Iraq War expected to be included in Chilcot’s findings.
All the key figures, including Blair and other senior Labour politicians, are understood to have been given notice of the broad thrust of Chilcot’s verdict on them, expected to be made public next year.
As a master of public relations and media manipulation, Blair may have calculated that since Chilcot is likely to accuse him of major errors of judgment, it is better for him to volunteer an apology now, rather than be forced to do so if, as seems certain, Chilcot’s damning assessment gives him little choice. The former Prime Minister’s decision to make his apology in the US, as opposed to the UK, is also significant.
Far from presenting his apology in a harsh critical light, CNN interviewer Zakaria, a personal friend of Blair, showers praise on him for being the only interviewee in the programme who ‘took responsibility for Iraq’ on camera.
Most of the others involved in the show, senior US political and military figures, blamed each other.
The Colin Powell memo – which this newspaper found among declassified US State Department documents while searching through a cache of Hillary Clinton’s recently released emails – was written in March 2002, a week before Mr Blair met Mr Bush for a summit at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
In our report, which made headlines around the world, we revealed that Powell had said Blair ‘will be with us’ should the US take military action in Iraq and that the ‘UK will follow our lead’.
Blair would handle ‘public affairs lines’ for persuading people that Saddam posed a real threat – in fact, after the war, it was discovered Blair’s claims following the Crawford summit about Iraq’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ were false.
Lord Blunkett told The Mail on Sunday yesterday how he challenged Blair during Cabinet meetings prior to the war about the level of post-conflict planning for Iraq.
As one of Blair’s most loyal Ministers, Lord Blunkett said he repeatedly sought reassurances that the US had a coherent plan to govern Iraq after the fall of Saddam.
He added: ‘I did not receive that reassurance. Tony was not able to say what was going to happen when combat operations were over. He just decided to trust Cheney and Rumsfeld.
‘With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that they had decided to embark on the complete de-Ba’athification of Saddam’s Iraq by dismantling the entire Government infrastructure.
‘This led to the disintegration of any form of functioning government, creating a complete power vacuum. Terrorists infiltrated Iraq and stirred discontent.
‘I am not seeking to scapegoat Tony Blair; we were all collectively to blame for deluding ourselves into believing that we had much greater sway over Washington.’ Lord Blunkett echoed calls for Chilcot to release an interim copy of his findings immediately or ‘risk his entire exercise being entirely discredited’.
Significantly, in the CNN show, host Zakaria gives his own apology, telling viewers that he regrets his own initial support for the war.
He says he changed his mind after watching the post-war turmoil unfold and witnessing the bloody rise of IS. Viewers may draw the conclusion that Blair came to the same decision for the same reason.
By Simon Walters, Glen Owen, Martin Beckford, and Daniel Bates
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.