Hasan Suroor

But the British Premier blames it on a host of issues

LONDON: For the first time, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has agreed with the assessment that the Iraq invasion has been a disaster but sought to blame the Al-Qaeda for the near civil-war conditions in that country.

Mr. Blair's grudging acknowledgement of what has been described as Britain's worst foreign policy fiasco since the Suez crisis came during an interview with David Frost on Al-Jazeera television's new international English-language channel on Friday.

Responding to Sir David's suggestion that Iraq had "so far been pretty much of a disaster,'' Mr. Blair said, "It has, but you see, what I say to people is: `why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there is a deliberate strategy Al-Qaeda with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war.''

Downing Street was quick to play down his remarks saying they did not amount to "some kind of admission.'' A spokesperson said: "He was simply acknowledging the question in a polite way before going on to explain his view. To portray it as some kind of admission is completely disingenuous.''

But Opposition leaders insisted it was an acknowledgement of the "enormity'' of the Iraq crisis.

"At long lost, the enormity of the decision to take military action in Iraq is being accepted by the Prime Minister. It could hardly be otherwise as the failure of strategy becomes so clear,'' the Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell said.

There was more embarrassment for Mr. Blair as it emerged that a senior Cabinet Minister Margaret Hodge recently described Iraq as his "big mistake in foreign affairs.''

She reportedly said at a private dinner that she had questioned Mr. Blair's approach to foreign policy since 1998 and described his attempt to impose British values on other countries as "moral imperialism.''