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Former UK PM Blair before Iraq War inquiry

LONDON (Reuters) - Tony Blair, the former prime minister who led Britain during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, appeared Friday before a public inquiry into the war.

Following are quotes from his appearance:

ANY REGRETS?

“It was a huge responsibility then and there’s not a single day that passes by that I don’t reflect and think about that responsibility and I should.

“But I genuinely believe if we had left Saddam in power even with what we know now, we would still have had to have dealt with it possibly in circumstances where the threat was worse and possibly in circumstances where it was hard to mobilize any support for dealing with that threat.

“If I’m asked if I believe we are safer, more secure, that Iraq is better, that our own security is better with Saddam and his two sons out of power ... then I believe indeed we are.

“In time to come if Iraq becomes, as I hope and believe it will, the country that its people want to see, we can look back, and particularly our armed forces can look back with an immense sense of pride and achievement in what they did.

“Responsibility but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein. I think that he was a monster, I believe he threatened not just the region, but the world.”

WOULD PEOPLE OF IRAQ THINK INVASION WORTHWHILE?

“If you look at the latest information from ... polls ... about the right direction, wrong direction of their country, they are actually upbeat about the future.

“If you look at whether they believe security and services are getting better, a majority think they are despite all the trouble.”

“I think if you ask the majority of Iraqis today would you really prefer, with all the challenges that lie ahead, to be back under Saddam, I think you would get a pretty overwhelming answer to that question.”

RESPONSIBILITY FOR BREAKDOWN IN SECURITY POST-INVASION?

“Yes it is our responsibility. But let’s be quite clear why we faced the difficulty. We faced the difficulty because these people were prepared to go and kill any number of completely innocent people.

IRAQI DEATHS

“The figures I think are the most reliable figures ... maybe 100,000 over this whole period.”

ABU GHRAIB ABUSE

“I was shocked and angry. Shocked because it was wrong and angry because of the damage I knew it would do.

“The truth is we were fighting a constant battle against people utterly misrepresenting us, our motives, what we were trying to do, and obviously those pictures and the abuse of prisoners was going to be vital propaganda for our enemies.”

MISTAKE OF DE-BAATHIFICATION AND DISBANDING ARMY

“I think it was true that it would have been better not to have done the de-Baathification and disbanding of the army.”

PRE-WAR RISK ASSESSMENT ABOUT IRAN

“Basically the evidence was that Iran more or less would have a watching brief to see how it would play out but it had no interest in destabilizing.”

IRAN’S POST-WAR INVOLVEMENT

“One of the most disappointing, but also I think the most telling aspects of this, is that the Iranians whatever they said from the beginning were a major destabilizing factor in this situation and quite deliberately”

PLANNING FOR SHIA/SUNNI DIVIDE

“There was very much discussion of the Shia/Sunni issue. People did not believe that you would have al Qaeda coming in from outside and people did not believe that you would end in a situation where Iran ... would try to destabilize the country.

MISTAKE OVER POST-WAR PLANNING

“If we knew then what we know now we would have done things differently. The planning assumption that ... everybody made was that there would be a functioning civil service. Contrary to what we thought ... we found a completely broken system.

“People did not think that al Qaeda and Iran would play the role that they did.

“It was the introduction of the external elements of AQ and Iran that really caused this mission very nearly to fail. Fortunately in the end it didn’t.

DID YOU GIVE ARMED FORCES ENOUGH KIT AND TIME TO PREPARE?

“I don’t think I’ve refused a request for money or equipment at any point in time that I was prime minister. My view very, very strongly is when you’re asking your armed forces to go into these situations, you put everything to one side other than making sure they have the equipment they need and they have the finance there to back it up.

LEGALITY OF WAR

“If (Attorney General Peter Goldsmith) in the end had said this cannot be justified lawfully, then we would have been unable to take action. Anybody who knows Peter knows he would not have done it unless he believed in it and thought it was the correct thing to do.”

RESOLUTION 1441 ALLOWED INVASION

“What was so important to me about resolution 1441 was not simply that it declared Saddam in breach but it said also that a failure to comply unconditionally and immediately and fully with the inspectors was itself a material breach.

“At the end of October 2002 I remember specifically a conversation with President Bush in which I said if he complies that’s it. This is important because people sometimes say it was all cast in stone.

WHY NOT LEAVE AFTERMATH TO OTHERS?

“Our military, in a sense to their great credit, were in favor, if we were going to be part of this, to be wholehearted ... I thought that was right as well. It would have been a very big thing to have kept out of the aftermath as well. Of course it was in the aftermath that some of the most difficult things happened and the British forces performed magnificently.”

DID U.S. OFFER TO GO IT ALONE?

“The Americans would have done that. I think President Bush at one point shortly before the debate said, look if it’s too difficult for Britain we understand, but I took the view very strongly then that it was right for us to be with America since we believed in this too. It is true it was very divisive.”

FAILURE TO GET SECOND U.N. RESOLUTION

“It was very, very clear to me that the French, the Germans and the Russian had decided they weren’t going to be in favor of this and there was a straightforward division frankly and I don’t think it would have mattered how much time we had taken, they weren’t going to agree that force should be used.”

WHAT IF?

“Even if (UN weapons inspector Hans) Blix had continued, the fact is he would never have got the truth out of Saddam and the leading people in the regime.”

“Sometimes what is important is not to ask the March 2003 question but to ask the 2010 question. Supposing we had backed off this military action, supposing we had left Saddam and his sons who were going to follow him in charge of Iraq, people who had used chemical weapons, caused the death of over a million people? What we now know is that he retained absolutely the intent and the intellectual know-how to restart a nuclear and a chemical weapons program when the inspectors were out and the sanctions changed.”

A QUESTION OF JUDGMENT

“This isn’t about a lie, or a conspiracy, or a deceit, or a deception, this is a decision.”

“And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over 1 million people whose deaths he caused, given 10 years of breaking U.N. resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons program?”

“It’s a decision in the end. I believed, and in the end so did the cabinet and so did parliament incidentally, that we were right not to run that risk.”

SADDAM AND AL QAEDA

“We were actually saying to the Americans, look, Saddam and al Qaeda, it’s two separate things but I always worried that at some point these two things would come together. Not Saddam and al Qaeda simply, but the notion of states proliferating WMD and terrorist groups. I still think that is a major risk today.”

“There are states, Iran in particular, that are linked to this extreme and in my view misguided view about Islam. We still face this threat today.”

WMD

“He had used them, he definitely had them, he was in breach of I think 10 United Nations resolutions on them, and so in a sense it would have required quite strong evidence the other way to be doubting the fact that he had this program.”

TIES TO WIDER MIDDLE EAST PEACE

“Most of them (Arab leaders) were glad to see the back of Saddam... He paid money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and he was a menace on the Middle East peace process.”

COMMITMENTS TO U.S. GIVEN IN APRIL 2002

“The only commitment I gave, and gave openly, was a commitment to deal with Saddam.”

“What I was saying to President Bush is we are going to be with you in confronting and dealing with this threat.”

“What changed after September 11 was that if necessary, and there was no other way of dealing with this threat, we were going to remove him.”

“If we tried the U.N. route and that failed, my view was it had to be dealt with.”

ON REGIME CHANGE/WMD

“The fact is it was an appalling regime and we couldn’t run the risk of such a regime being allowed to develop WMD.”

ON IMPACT OF 9/11

“Up to September 11 (2001), we thought he (Saddam) was a risk but we thought it was worth trying to contain it. The crucial thing after September 11 is that the calculus of risk changed.”

“If September 11 hadn’t happened our assessment of the risk of allowing Saddam any possibility of him reconstituting his programs would not have been the same. After September 11, our view, the American view, changed and changed dramatically.”

“The point about this act in New York was that had they been able to kill even more people than those 3,000 they would have. And so after that time, my view was you could not take risks with this issue at all.

Reporting by Michael Holden, Keith Weir and Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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