Blair 'desperately sorry' for Iraq war deaths

1st September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's ex-prime minister Tony Blair said he was "desperately sorry" over the deaths an all sides in Iraq, but "can't regret the decision to go to war", in his memoirs released Wednesday.

In "A Journey", Blair said he was "sorry for the lives cut short" and wept over the loss of life, but maintained it was right to remove dictator Saddam Hussein from power.

The war in Iraq is one of the defining events of Blair's premiership and he laid bare his beliefs on the conflict in his written account of his time in office.

The profits from his memoir are going towards a veterans' charity to build a rehabilitation centre.

Laying out a case for the war, he said: "I have often reflected as to whether I was wrong. I ask you to reflect as to whether I may have been right."

He said the aftermath of the 2003 invasion was "terrible" but, "never did I guess the nightmare that unfolded".

He said of his opponents: "Do they really suppose I don't care, don't feel, don't regret with every fibre of my being the loss of those who died?

"To be indifferent to that would be inhuman, emotionally warped. But it is not that accusation that causes the anguish."

Blair said he still felt anguish for the relatives of those killed in the conflict -- British soldiers, their allies, Iraqi civilians, diplomats and random casualties such as murdered hostages.

"Tears, though there have been many, do not encompass it," he wrote.

"I feel desperately sorry for them, sorry for the lives cut short, sorry for the families whose bereavement is made worse by the controversy over why their loved ones died, sorry for the utterly unfair selection that the loss should be theirs.

"I am now beyond the mere expression of compassion. I feel words of condolence and sympathy to be entirely inadequate. They have died and I, the decision-maker in the circumstances that led to their deaths, still live."

Blair said he felt "sick" at Britain's Iraq Inquiry at being asked if he had regrets, "angry" at being put in that position "in an inquiry that was supposed to be about lessons learned, but had inevitably turned into a trial of judgement, and even good faith.

"And in front of some of the families of the fallen, to whom I wanted to reach out, but knew if I did so, the embrace would be immediately misused and misconstrued."

Blair said: "I can't regret the decision to go to war.

"Never did I guess the nightmare that unfolded, and that too is part of the responsibility."

He cited his efforts now as a Middle East peace envoy and his work promoting inter-faith dialogue.

"I can't say sorry in words; I can only hope to redeem something from the tragedy of death, in the actions of a life, my life, that continues still," he wrote.

As for Iraq's post-invasion descent into a bloody insurgency, Blair wrote: "The truth is we did not anticipate the role of al-Qaeda or Iran.

"Whether we should have is another matter; and if we had anticipated, what we would have done about it is another matter again."

Blair reflected on the estimated hundreds of thousands who had been killed under Saddam's rule, the numbers dying from malnutrition and the millions in exile, and compared them to figures bandied about for the number of deaths in the Iraq war and subsequent insurgency.

"On the basis of what we do know now, I still believe that leaving Saddam in power was a bigger risk to our security than removing him and that, terrible though the aftermath was, the reality of Saddam and his sons in charge of Iraq would at least arguably be much worse," he said.

In conclusion, he said: "It is for these reasons that I am unable to satisfy the desire even of some of my supporters, who would like me to say: it was a mistake but one made in good faith."

Blair announced earlier this month that he will donate all the proceeds of the autobiography to the Royal British Legion, a charity which helps severely injured war veterans.

According to reports, he received a 4.6-million-pound (5.6-million-euro, 7.2-million-dollar) advance for the book and sales are expected to generate a far bigger sum.

© 2010 AFP

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