Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged the 2003 invasion of Iraq played a part in the rise of the Islamic State militant group, and apologized for some mistakes in planning the war, in an interview broadcast Sunday.
However the timing of his apology sparked claims of attempted “spin” ahead of the Chilcot Inquiry findings.
Blair’s decision to send troops to back the US-led invasion is still a live political issue in Britain, where a six-year public inquiry into the conflict is yet to publish its findings.
Asked whether the offensive was the principal cause of the rise of Islamic State, which now controls large areas of Iraq and neighboring Syria, Blair said there were “elements of truth” in that.
“Of course, you can’t say that those of us who removed (former Iraqi dictator) Saddam (Hussein) in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015,” Blair told Fareed Zakaria on CNN the US network CNN.
Critics say the US decision to disband Saddam Hussein’s army after the invasion created a huge security vacuum exploited by al Qaeda, which was eventually replaced by Islamic State.
Some former Iraqi army officers, members of the Sunni Muslim minority which says it has been marginalized by the Shi’ite-led government backed by Western powers, are senior strategists in Islamic State.
The Iraqi government says it has not marginalized Sunnis.
Blair said the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings across the region also affected Iraq, and pointed out that Islamic State had risen out of a base in Syria, not Iraq.
Blair apologized for what he described as mistakes in planning and intelligence before the war and in preparations for what would happen once Saddam was removed, but said it had been the right decision.
“We have tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq; we’ve tried intervention without putting in troops in Libya; and we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria. It’s not clear to me that, even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies have worked better,” he said.
“I find it hard to apologize for removing Saddam. I think, even from today in 2015, it is better that he’s not there than that he is there.”
Chilcot inquiry report
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, responded by saying that the “Blair spin operation” had swung into action as Sir John Chilcot prepares to set out a timetable for the publication of his report, Guardian said.
In his long-awaited report, Chilcot is expected to criticise the use of intelligence that suggested Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war.
The former Northern Ireland Office permanent secretary is also expected to say that the UK and the US failed to make adequate preparations for the aftermath of the invasion.
Chilcot was a member of the Butler inquiry, which in 2004 raised concerns about the intelligence before the Iraq invasion. The inquiry also questioned the way in which senior intelligence officials and Downing Street stripped out caveats from intelligence assessments.