LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has acknowledged that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was partly responsible for the emergence of the Islamic State militant group in the Middle East. But he insists that toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been the right thing to do.
Blair told CNN “there are elements of truth” in the assertion that the war in Iraq caused the rise of IS, which now controls a large swath of Iraq and Syria.
“Of course, you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015,” he said in an interview broadcast Sunday.
Blair added that the Arab Spring revolutions, which began in 2011, had also played a part by allowing the Islamic fundamentalist militant group to flourish in civil war-torn Syria and then Iraq. And he said the “sectarian policy” of Iraq’s Shiite-led government was also a factor in destabilizing the country.
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Blair’s decision to take Britain into the Iraq war — based on what turned out to be false claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction — remains hugely divisive at home and contributed to his Labour Party’s loss of power in 2010.
Blair insisted that removing Saddam was the right thing to do, but apologized, as he has before, for failures in post-war planning.
“I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong,” he said. “I also apologize for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
Some 179 British personnel died in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. A public inquiry into decisions and mistakes in Britain’s planning and execution of the war began in 2009 but has yet to issue its findings. The process has been held up while people criticized in the report are given a chance to respond.
Critics of the war hope the inquiry will conclude that Blair was determined to back President George W. Bush in his invasion plans, whether or not it was supported by the public, Parliament or legal opinion.
In the interview, Blair also said recent British policy in the Middle East had not been a success.
“We’ve 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,” he said. “It is not clear to me, even if our policy (in 2003) did not work, that subsequent policies have worked better.”
Former Liberal Democrat party leader Menzies Campbell said Blair’s admission of mistakes “will do nothing to change public opinion that his was a major error of judgment.”
“Iraq is his legacy and it will be his epitaph,” Campbell said.