Took decision in the best interest of the country: Tony Blair

July 06, 2016 09:07 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:02 pm IST - London

Former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, who took the controversial and unpopular decision to send British troops into war in Iraq in 2003, said he would take the same decision today if he had the same level of information as he had then. He was responding to the criticisms of his leadership by the Iraq Inquiry committee led by Sir John Chilcot during the period between 2002 and 2009.

Mr. Blair said he "feels deeply and sincerely, in a way no words can properly convey, the grief and suffering" of those who lost their lives in the Iraq war. Though emotional in tone, he nevertheless was unapologetic, and presented himself as a restraining influence on the United States President George Bush by trying to persuade the latter to get United Nations approval on key issues of the Iraq policy. But Mr. Blair also argued that if the US-led coalition had withdrawn the threat of invasion in 2003, they would have found it impossible to regroup its forces, and Saddam Hussein would have been strengthened.

Earlier in the day, in his first reponse to the Chilcot Report Mr. 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.”

At his press conference and in reply to some hard and pointed questioning from journalists, Mr. Blair was the consummate politician, adroitly side-stepping crucial criticisms of the report.

A prize revelation of the Chilcot report is from a previously unpublished memo from July 2002, which suggests that Mr. Blair had committed himself to military action in Iraq eight months before the British Parliament gave its consent for such action. In a memo to the US President George Bush, Mr. Blair writes: “I will be with you, whatever.”

When asked if this was a commitment to go to war, Mr. Blair not only denied it but said that he said it to pressure Mr. Bush to get United Nations clearance before taking unilateral action.

Mr. Blair justified his action in giving the green light for armed intervention in March 2003 without UN approval on France and Russia who blocked what would have otherwise been a unanimous vote in support of military intervention. He did not accept the Report’s view that he had acted in a way that “undermined” the world body. Rather, it was France and Moscow that had done so, he said.

The decision to go to war without UN approval was a “binary decision” he said insisting that he did not have “the option to delay.” He apologised for having had the “wrong intelligence” on Saddam’s chemical and biological stockpile, but claimed that all other intelligence agencies in the world had come to the same conclusion as him.

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