Blair 'sorry' for Iraq war victims in revealing memoir

1st September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said he was "desperately sorry" over the Iraq war deaths and branded Gordon Brown's premiership a "disaster" as he let loose in his memoirs out Wednesday.

Entitled "A Journey", Blair said the book was his account of the "human being" at the centre of his decade in power from 1997 to 2007, as he lifted the lid on the goings-on behind the famous black door of 10 Downing Street.

Covering events such as the invasion of Iraq, the Northern Ireland peace process, domestic reforms and his rocky relationship with his finance minister Brown, Blair recounted his side of the story.

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

Blair said he was "desperately sorry" over the deaths an all sides -- British soldiers, their allies, Iraqi civilians, diplomats and random casualties such as murdered hostages.

However, he said he "can't regret the decision to go to war" as he laid out a case for the conflict.

Appealing to closed minds, 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 he wept over the loss of life, but maintained it would have been a bigger risk to security to leave dictator Saddam Hussein in power than remove him.

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?

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

"I feel desperately sorry for them, sorry for the lives cut short."

Citing his work as a Middle East peace envoy and promoting inter-faith dialogue, he said: "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."

Blair also unleashed his feelings on his successor Gordon Brown, who he said cost the Labour Party their grip on power in the May general election by abandoning his own centrist, modernising "New Labour" approach.

He said Brown's three years in office were a "disaster" and his succession was "unwise because it was never going to work".

Blair held his tongue during Brown's premiership but let rip for the first time on their years of bitter rivalry.

He said Brown was "maddening", "difficult" and wore him down with "relentless personal pressure" as he chased the top job.

Brown lacked political instinct "at the human gut level", Blair said.

"Political calculation, yes. Political feelings, no. Analytical intelligence, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, zero."

"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.

While Brown became "impossible" and the "standard-bearer" for party dissent, Blair concluded it was less damaging to keep him inside the circle than kick him out.

He concluded Brown was "strong, capable and brilliant" and the best chancellor (finance minister) for the country."

His comments come on the day Labour begins voting for their next leader, and his warnings on abandoning "New Labour" thinking will be seen as a tacit endorsement of David Miliband.

Blair insisted he remains "first and foremost not so much a politician of traditional left or right, but a moderniser".

"My soul is and always will be that of a rebel."

He also admitted he used to drink alcohol in a bid to relax and relieve the pressure of life at number 10.

Assessing current politics, he said he "disagrees with much conventional wisdom about the financial crisis and continuing challenges of security".

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 second 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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