Blair testifies at inquiry on Iraq, regrets loss of life
A year after he testified before Britain's official inquiry into the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair, former prime minister, returned Friday to revisit his reasons for going to war and, he said, to do something he did not do the first time around: express his regret for the loss of life.
The New York Times
LONDON — A year after he first testified before Britain's official inquiry into the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair, the former prime minister, returned Friday to revisit his reasons for going to war and, he said, to do something he did not do the first time around: express his regret for the loss of life.
That moment of contrition — in answer to the severe criticism he received during the inquiry last year — seemed to offer little solace to the relatives of the British men and women who died in the Iraq War. Many relatives were on hand Friday at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center in central London, where the 18-month-old investigation is unfolding.
At the end of his first session before the inquiry panel in January 2010, Blair was asked whether he wished to express regret.
"I took that as a question about the decision to go to war," he said Friday, "and I answered that I took responsibility.
"That was taken as my meaning that I had no regrets about the loss of life, and that was never my meaning or my intention," he said. "I wanted to make it clear that, of course, I regret deeply and profoundly the loss of life, whether from our own armed forces, those of other nations, the civilians who helped people in Iraq or the Iraqis themselves."
There were cries from the public gallery of "Too late, too late" before the inquiry's chairman, Sir John Chilcot, demanded silence.
When Britain ended its combat role in Iraq in 2009, 179 soldiers had been killed and several thousand wounded, and some bereaved families have joined the wider public condemnation of the former prime minister for joining President George W. Bush in planning the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
A year ago, Blair underwent six hours of questioning by the panel, which recalled him to investigate what it saw as discrepancies between his testimony and that of other senior officials who had dealt with Iraq.
Addressing the five-member panel scrutinizing Britain's role in the unpopular war, Blair acknowledged that in phone calls and messages in 2002 — months before Parliament approved Britain's role in the conflict — he reassured Bush and told him: "You can count on us."
Alongside his evidence, the inquiry published a previously unseen 2002 memo from Blair to his chief of staff, in which the leader called for a "gung-ho" approach toward Saddam's government.
He said he was sure that toppling Saddam had been the right course, despite the failure to discover illicit weapons, and he would do it again. His central reference point was the new global landscape he said the Western world confronted after the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I didn't see Sept. 11 as an attack on America; it was an attack on us," he said, meaning Britain and the other Western democracies. His consistent message to Bush, he said, had been: "Whatever the political heat, I'm going to be with you. I'm not going to back out."
Much of Friday's hearing addressed issues that had haunted Blair, 57, for years: whether he pressured Peter Goldsmith, the British attorney general at the time, to make a formal finding that the war would be legal under the terms of a U.N. resolution on Iraq's weapons, and whether he had given Bush secret assurances that Britain would commit its forces regardless of the political and legal reservations in London.
Britain's inquiry won't apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability. Its recommendations, expected by the end of year, will focus on how better to handle the approach to the war and the bloody attempt at nation-building that followed.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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