Blair 'profoundly' regrets lives lost in Iraq war

21st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Former prime minister Tony Blair told Britain's Iraq war inquiry Friday that he profoundly regretted the loss of life in the conflict, but sparked angry shouts of "too late" from dead soldiers' families.

During a four-and-a-half hour hearing, he also criticised US President Barack Obama's soft approach to Iran and urged the West to use force if necessary to curb the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions

Summing up at the end of his second appearance before the inquiry, an emotional Blair said his remark at his first hearing last January that he had "no regret" over the March 2003 invasion had been misunderstood.

"That was taken as my meaning that I had no regrets about the loss of life and that was never my meaning or my intention," he said.

"I wanted to make that clear that of course I regret deeply and profoundly the loss of life, whether from our own armed forces, those of other nations, the civilians who helped people in Iraq or the Iraqis themselves."

His words sparked an angry response from the packed public gallery, where relatives of some of the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq were sitting.

Several shouted out that his words were "too late" and two women stood up, deliberately turning their backs to Blair.

"Your lies killed my son, I hope you can live with yourself," shouted Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon was killed in 2006 while serving in Basra, as Blair left the hearing.

Outside the central London venue, dozens of anti-war demonstrators held up banners calling Blair a liar and chanting "Tony Blair -- to The Hague", where war crimes tribunals are held.

Blair, wearing a dark suit and tie and white shirt, was recalled for a second session to explain gaps in the evidence he gave last time and discrepancies with other witnesses.

After criticism that they had given him an easy ride, the five inquiry panel members pressed Blair hard about when he committed Britain to military action to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and the legal basis for war.

Blair said he had discussed removing Saddam with then US president George Bush as early as December 2001, amid heightened fears about his suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons following the September 11 attacks.

"Regime change was their policy, so regime change was part of the discussion. If it became the only way of dealing with this issue, we were going to be up for that," he said.

However, he said he fought hard to persuade Bush to tackle the Iraqi leader through the United Nations, despite Saddam's track record of ignoring UN resolutions over his weapons programme.

They secured UN resolution 1441 in November 2002, which gave Saddam a final opportunity to comply with UN weapons inspectors, and argued this gave them a legal basis on which to invade.

Blair's then top legal advisor, Peter Goldsmith, disagreed and told him so in two advisory notes on January 14 and January 30, 2003.

But Blair told the inquiry this advice was only "provisional" and noted that Goldsmith later changed his mind after talking with US lawyers.

In a written submission, Blair admitted he did not raise Goldsmith's concerns in talks with Bush on January 31 and instead "repeated my strong commitment, given publicly and privately, to do what it took to disarm Saddam".

He admitted the "inconsistency" but said that revealing the doubts would have damaged his efforts to build support for a second UN resolution.

Blair also used the hearing to attack the "negative, destabilising" influence of Iran in the Middle East, and criticised Obama for being too soft on Tehran.

He said Obama's appeal to Iran in his 2009 Cairo speech achieved little, arguing: "They carry on with the terrorism, they carry on with the destabilisation, they carry on with the nuclear weapons."

The inquiry was launched in July 2009 to identify lessons from the Iraq war immediately following the withdrawal of British troops from the country.

Blair served as Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007.

© 2011 AFP

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