Rise of ISIS linked to Iraq war, admits Blair

Ex-British PM Tony Blair did not, however, regret Saddam Hussein's removal.
Ex-British PM Tony Blair did not, however, regret Saddam Hussein's removal.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Britain's former leader Tony Blair has again apologised for certain aspects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, adding there were "elements of truth" to the view it was connected to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

However, Mr Blair, a divisive figure blamed for leading Britain into the Iraq war, insisted he still did not regret the removal of Saddam Hussein as Iraq's leader as he said sorry over intelligence failings and planning mistakes.

His comments come shortly before a timetable for the publication of the much-delayed public inquiry into the Iraq war is due to be announced.

"I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong," Mr Blair, who served as prime minister between 1997 and 2007, told CNN in an interview.

"I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime."

He added: "I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam. I think, even from today in 2015, it is better that he's not there than that he is there."

Mr Blair acknowledged there were "elements of truth" to the argument that the United States-led and British-backed invasion of Iraq eventually led to the rise of ISIS, according to a transcript on the CNN website.

"Of course, you can't say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015," he said.

"But it's important also to realise, one, that the Arab Spring which began in 2011 would also have had its impact on Iraq today, and, two, ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq."

A controversial inquiry by former civil servant John Chilcot into the decisions leading up to the Iraq war, expected to take a year to report, is still not public despite being announced by the government in 2009.

Amid intense pressure from MPs and families of military personnel killed in the war to publish, Mr Chilcot will write to British Prime Minister David Cameron by Nov 3 to say when the inquiry will be completed.

A spokesman for Mr Blair said of the CNN interview: "All of this he has said before."

She added: "Tony Blair has always apologised for the intelligence being wrong and for mistakes in planning. He has always also said, and says again here, that he does not, however, think it was wrong to remove Saddam."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'Rise of ISIS linked to Iraq war, admits Blair'. Print Edition | Subscribe