Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologized for aspects of the Iraq war in an interview with CNN on Sunday, although analysts suggest that the gesture is too little, too late.
“I can say that I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong because, even though he [late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the program in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought,” Blair told CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria
Blair unleashed his apology on the American news network ahead of the release of Britain’s Iraq war probe, known as the Chilcot Inquiry.
However, his long-awaited apology was long due for some observers while for others, it was “hardly an apology,” George Joffe, a research fellow and lecturer at the center of international studies, University of Cambridge, told Al Arabiya News.
“It was an acknowledgement,” Joffe explained, adding “all he said basically that he made mistakes but getting rid of Saddam was not.”
Blair fell short of a whole-encompassing apology for the war when 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.”
But in the same time, Blair conceded that the Iraq war was partly to blame for the rise of the ISIS, which is currently occupying large swathes of territories in Iraq and Syria.
“Of course, you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015,” he said.
The former British prime minister said Iraq with or without Saddam would have been affected with the Arab Spring which began in 2011, and to his defense, he said “ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.”
He also said Western countries have tried different myriad of options in the region, keeping the debate over Western intervention as inconclusive.
“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,” Blair said. “It’s not clear to me that, even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies have worked better.”
Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), also said intervening in conflict zones is still a continuous debate in the UK and the West.
But he said in 2003, both the Conservative and the Labour Party “did not have enough debate” on a leadership level.
Blair, who served as prime minister between 1997 and 2007, has repeatedly denied rushing to war. Under his leadership, Britain made the second biggest troop contribution to the Iraq invasion, and British forces were stationed in the country until 2011.
Doyle also criticized Blair for choosing an American news network to unleash his apology and not in Britain nor did he acknowledge his mistakes to the Iraqi people.
“He was given ample of opportunities. So many opportunities, invited to say sorry, to apologize, and he avoided at every single turn,” Doyle said, mulling Blair’s continuous media exposure and his concern for the future of the Labor party might have pushed him to acknowledge the past mistakes in 2003.
The interview could also serve him and could possibly make him more likeable, Doyle said. “I think most people prefer to be liked and loved rather than hated.”
Regrets not planning after removing Saddam
In addition to Blair describing false intelligence suggesting Iraq had so-called weapons of mass destruction, which was then used to justify the invasion, he expressed regret over the failure to adequately plan for the aftermath of the war in 2003, which saw the toppling of Saddam.
In the interview, Blair told Zakaria that he apologized “for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
Saddam’s Baathist regime ruled Iraq for 24 years. Critics had always slammed U.S. official Paul Bremer, who ran Iraq for 14 months after Allied forces toppled Saddam’s regime, for disbanding the Iraqi army.
Iraq’s new army could not thwart ISIS attacks and its lighting offensive against its second largest city last year and other areas in the country.
'He's said this before'
The British media, meanwhile, reported about the upcoming television interview on Sunday.
Following the report on Blair's apology, a spokeswoman for the former PM was quoted by The Guardian as saying: “Tony Blair has always apologized for the intelligence being wrong and for mistakes in planning. He has always also said, and says again here, that he does not however think it was wrong to remove Saddam.
“He did not say the decision to remove Saddam in 2003 ‘caused ISIS’ and pointed out that ISIS was barely heard of at the end of 2008, when al-Qaeda was basically beaten.
“He went on to say in 2009, Iraq was relatively more stable. What then happened was a combination of two things: there was a sectarian policy pursued by the government of Iraq, which were mistaken policies.
“But also when the Arab Spring began, ISIS moved from Iraq into Syria, built themselves from Syria and then came back into Iraq.
“All of this he has said before,” the spokeswomen added.
According to the UK’s ITV News. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister for Scotland has accused Blair of participating in a "spin operation" to prepare the ground for criticisms that may surface from the Chilcot Inquiry.
Last week, a leaked White House memo allegedly proved that Blair backed military action a year before seeking a vote in parliament.
The revelations focused on a memo allegedly written by former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell on March 28, 2002 to then president George Bush a week before the U.S. leader’s meeting with Blair at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
“On Iraq, Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary,” wrote Powell, in a document the Mail on Sunday published on its website.
“He is convinced on two points: the threat is real; and success against Saddam will yield more regional success,” Powell said, referring to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who was eventually ousted in the 2003 US-led invasion.
The Mail on Sunday said the memo and other sensitive documents were part of a batch of secret emails held on the private server of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton which U.S. courts have forced her to reveal.
A separate quote from Powell assured Bush “the UK will follow our lead in the Middle East”, while other statements suggest Blair’s willingness to present “strategic, tactical and public affairs lines” to strengthen public support for the Iraq war.