Tony Blair Takes Blame for Iraq War, Admits Conflict Caused ISIL
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he's sorry for "mistakes" made in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and says he recognizes “elements of truth” behind opinion that the invasion caused the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The former British Prime Minister, nevertheless said he doesn't regret bringing down dictator Saddam Hussein.
"I can say that I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong because, even though he had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the program in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought," Blair said in an exclusive interview on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS that airs Sunday.
Blair was referring to the claim that Saddam's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, which was used by the US and British governments to justify launching the invasion. But the intelligence reports the claim was based on turned out to be false.
The ensuing war and dismantling of Saddam's government plunged Iraq into chaos, resulting in years of deadly sectarian violence and the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq, a precursor of ISIL. Tens of thousands of Iraqis, more than 4,000 US troops and 179 British service members were killed in the lengthy conflict.
As the most high-profile foreign ally of former US President George W. Bush in the Iraq invasion, Blair has found his legacy overshadowed by the war, with questions and criticism following him wherever he goes.
The consequences of Bush's decision to to take America into Iraq has repeatedly reared its head this year among candidates vying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
'I find it hard to apologize for removing Saddam'
Blair told Zakaria that besides the flawed Iraq intelligence, he also apologizes "for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime."
But he stopped short of a full apology for the war.
"I find it hard to apologize for removing Saddam. I think, even from today in 2015, it is better that he's not there than that he is there," Blair said.
Saddam was notorious for his ruthless oppression of Iraqi citizens during more than three decades of dictatorship. He launched ruinous wars against neighbors Iran and Kuwait, and used chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq.
But present day Iraq is still under heavy strain from sectarian tensions and is struggling to deal with the threat of ISIL, the extremist group that has imposed its brutal rule on significant parts of the north and west of the country.
Admits partial responsibility for ISIL rise
Blair acknowledged to Zakaria that there are "elements of truth" in the view that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the principle cause of the rise of ISIL.
Asked by Zakaria how he feels about being branded a "war criminal" for his decision to go into Iraq, Blair said he did what he thought was right at the time.
"Now, whether it's right or not, that's for -- everyone can have their judgment about that," he said.