Tony Blair expresses 'sorrow and regret' over Iraq - but says he would do it again
Tony Blair today expressed "sorrow and regret" over the Iraq War - but insisted he would do it all over again.
The ashen-faced former Prime Minister said "there's not a single day goes by" when he does not think about his decision to approve military action.
Mr Blair admitted many mistakes had been made before, during and after the March 2003 invasion.
But he said he could not apologise for the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power - and said history will "take a different view" on the war and its aftermath.
In a lengthy statement responding to Sir John Chilcot's devastating report on the way the Iraq War was conducted, Mr Blair said:
"The decision to go to war in Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power in a coalition of over 40 countries led by the USA, was the hardest, most momentous, most agonising decision I took in 10 years as British prime minister.
"For that decision today I accept full responsibility, without exception and without excuse.
"I recognise the division felt by many in our country over the war and in particular I feel deeply and sincerely – in a way that no words can properly convey – the grief and suffering of those who lost ones they loved in Iraq, whether they were members of our armed forces, the armed forces of other nations, or Iraqis.
"The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong. The aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined.
"The coalition planned for one set of ground facts and encountered another, and a nation whose people we wanted to set free and secure from the evil of Saddam, became instead victim to sectarian terrorism.
"For all of this I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe."
However, the former Prime Minister insisted he would still approve military action, given the intelligence information he was shown in the run up to the war.
He said: "If I was back in the same place with the same information I would take the same decision.
"People want me to go one step further – and this is my problem, I know it causes a lot of difficulty – they say ‘no, we want you to apologise for the decision’ and I can’t do that."
'WITH YOU WHATEVER'
Mr Blair also defended his memo to George W Bush in which he vowed to be with him "whatever", insisting that he had not given the Americans a blank cheque to go to war.
"There was no rush to war - the inquiry rightly dismisses the conspiracy theory that I pledged Britain unequivocally to action at (President Bush's ranch in) Crawford in April 2002," he said.
"I could not and did not, as they explicitly conclude.
"I was absolutely clear, publicly and privately, that I would be with the USA in dealing with this issue. I set out the conditions necessary, especially that we should go down the UN route and avoid precipitate action, as again the report finds."
The former Prime Minister also mounted a strong defence of his defiant tone in the face of the widespread criticism he has faced.
He said: "There is no inconsistency in expressing my sorrow for those that have lost their lives, my regret and my apology for the mistakes but still saying I believe the decision was right.
"There is no inconsistency in that. I understand why that makes some people at least angry with me.
"In the end, I’m sorry again if people find that difficult to reconcile but I spend so much of my time thinking about this issue, I spend so much of my life analysing it, I would be making a concession I didn’t believe if I said to you ‘I think if we left him there we’d be better’."