Blair 'sorry' for Iraq victims but no regrets in memoir

1st September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said he was "desperately sorry" for deaths in the Iraq war but insisted the controversial 2003 invasion was right in his memoirs published Wednesday.

Entitled "A Journey", the book is Blair's account of his decade in Downing Street from 1997 to 2007 and also features an unprecedented, stinging attack on his successor Gordon Brown, whose premiership he brands a disaster.

However, it is Iraq -- arguably the defining event of Blair's decade in power -- which is at the book's heart.

Blair said he was "desperately sorry" over casualties on all sides -- British soldiers, their allies, Iraqi civilians, diplomats and casualties such as murdered hostages -- and suggested he had shed tears over the loss of life.

But he insisted that he "can't regret the decision to go to war" as he again outlined the case for the conflict.

"All I know is that I did what I thought was right," Blair wrote. "I stood by America when it needed standing by. Together we rid the world of a tyrant. Together we fought to uphold the Iraqis' right to a democratic government."

Blair did, though, acknowledge that the aftermath of the invasion was far worse than anticipated.

"The aftermath was more bloody, more awful, more terrifying than anyone could have imagined," he said.

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

He praised the "genuine integrity" and "political courage" of the then US president George W. Bush, alongside whom he entered the invasion and with whom he had "really good personal chemistry".

And in a BBC interview being broadcast Wednesday to publicise the book, Blair added that the international community should be prepared to consider taking military action against Iran if it develops a nuclear weapon.

"I am saying that I think it is wholly unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapons capability and I think we have got to be prepared to confront them, if necessary militarily," he said, according to pre-released extracts.

"I think there is no alternative to that if they continue to develop nuclear weapons. They need to get that message loud and clear."

Elsewhere, Blair makes public as never before the private tensions which simmered between him and Brown, who served as his finance minister, throughout his premiership.

Brown had long craved the top job and he and those close to him exerted increasing pressure on Blair to quit, particularly in his final years.

Blair said Brown was a "strange guy" with "zero" emotional intelligence. He said he knew that Brown's premiership would be "terminal" for the government.

He added that Brown lost this year's general election, which led to a coalition government under Conservative premier David Cameron, because he veered away from New Labour, the project which he and Blair spearheaded in the 1990s to take the centre-left party to the centre ground.

"It is easy to say now, in the light of his tenure as prime minister, that I should have stopped it; at the time that would have been well nigh impossible," Blair wrote.

His comments come on the day Labour begins voting for their next leader, and his warnings on abandoning New Labour is likely to be seen as a tacit endorsement of the candidacy of former foreign secretary David Miliband, an ex Blair aide.

Blair also gave a series of candid insights on the impact of life in Downing Street on him personally.

He admitted he used alcohol as a "prop" in a bid to relax and wrote of the "huge strain" on his wife Cherie and their four children, the youngest of whom, Leo, was born while he was in office.

Blair 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 has already received a 4.6-million-pound (5.6-million-euro, 7.2-million-dollar) advance for the book.

Within hours of its release, online seller Amazon said "A Journey" was already ranked first on its British bestseller list.

Blair is in the United States, having been invited to a White House dinner by US President Barack Obama in his role as Middle East peace envoy.

© 2010 AFP

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