x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Blair testifies at Iraq Inquiry, warns of Iran threat

The former British prime minister and UN Middle East envoy gives evidence for a second time to the government-ordered inquiry in London, and says he saw "the impact and influence of Iran everywhere" as he toured the region.

The former British prime minister Tony Blair, left, was recalled to the Iraq war inquiry to explain possible gaps and inconsistencies in his evidence last year.
The former British prime minister Tony Blair, left, was recalled to the Iraq war inquiry to explain possible gaps and inconsistencies in his evidence last year.

LONDON // Tony Blair warned yesterday of the "looming" threat to regional and world peace posed by Iran which would, if necessary, have to be met by force.

Giving evidence for a second time to the government-ordered Iraq Inquiry in London, Mr Blair - the former British prime minister and the UN's special envoy to the Middle East - said that he saw "the impact and influence of Iran everywhere" as he toured the region.

"It is negative and destabilising everywhere," he said. "It is supportive of terrorist groups."

He called on the West to adopt a much tougher stance towards Tehran. "At some point, we've got to get our heads out of the sand," he said. "At some point - and I say this to you with all the passion I possibly can - the West has got to get out of this wretched posture of apology for believing that we are responsible for what the Iranians are doing, or what these extremists are doing.

"We are not. The fact is that they are doing it because they disagree fundamentally with our way of life and they will carry on doing it unless they are met by the requisite determination and, if necessary, force."

It was also revealed yesterday that Mr Blair had declared himself "gung-ho" about ousting Saddam Hussein because of the threat he posed to the Gulf, a year before the March 2003, invasion.

Before Mr Blair started giving four hours of evidence yesterday, the inquiry released a note that he had written to Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, shortly before a visit to President George W Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April, 2002.

In the note, Mr Blair said that, from the Labour Party's point of view, the case for action against Iraq should be "obvious".

Mr Blair wrote: "Saddam's regime is a brutal, oppressive military dictatorship. He kills his opponents, has wrecked his country's economy and is a source of instability and danger in the region.

"A political philosophy that does care about other nations - eg Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone - and is prepared to change regimes on the merits, should be gung-ho on Saddam."

Recalled to the inquiry because of apparent inconsistencies in his evidence last year and that of other witnesses, Mr Blair told the five-member panel, headed by Sir John Chilcot, that he had always made it plain to Mr Bush that he would be "up for" regime change in Iraq.

He acknowledged that the pair had first discussed it in a telephone conversation in December 2001, less than three months after the September 11 attacks. At the time, regime change was not part of government policy in the UK.

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

"The Americans, from September 11 onwards, this was on their agenda."

Mr Blair - who has frequently been portrayed in the British media as Mr Bush's "poodle" - said that, while he had always made it plain that he would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the Americans, he had also succeeded in persuading the US president to "go down the UN route" first.

Mr Blair admitted that he had disregarded the initial advice he had received that attacking Iraq would be illegal without a fresh UN resolution.

He said that he had regarded "as provisional" the January 2003, opinion of the attorney general, Lord (Peter) Goldsmith, that military action was not legally sanctioned under UN Resolution 1441.

Lord Goldsmith did subsequently change his mind and issued an opinion saying an invasion would be lawful under 1441 which, in turn, enabled Mr Blair to get parliamentary backing for military action.

At the end of the hearing, in which Mr Blair did not budge from his position a year ago that he had done the right thing in authorising British involvement in the invasion, he was barracked by spectators in the public gallery as he expressed regret for the loss of life in Iraq.

As Mr Blair said that he "deeply and profoundly" regretted the deaths of British troops and Iraqi civilians during the conflict and its aftermath, he was jeered with one person shouting: "It's too late."

 

dsapsted@thenational.ae