Blair has "no regrets" over Iraq war decision
Tony Blair said Friday he felt "no regrets" for taking Britain to war against Iraq in 2003 - a momentous decision that has proven to be the most divisive legacy of his premiership, dpa reported.
His defiance, coming at the end of a six-hour grilling before Britain's Iraq War Inquiry, prompted shouts of "murderer" and "liar" from the public gallery and saw two mothers of war victims break down in tears.
"Do you have any regrets?" inquiry chairman John Chilcot asked Blair at the end of the session, clearly hoping to illicit a sign of remorse or sympathy from the former prime minister reviled by many Britons for taking the country to war.
"No," answered Blair. "Responsibility but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein. I believe he was a monster. I believe he threatened not just the region but the world. I believe the world is safer as a result."
"He is remorseless, he has no regrets at all, when it would have been so easy for him to soothe open wounds," said Greg Keyes, who lost his 20-year old son Tom in Basra in 2003.
Whether the price paid for the war had been too high, Chilcot inquired. "I genuinely believe that if we had left Saddam in power we would still have had to have dealt with him, possibly in circumstances where the threat was worse," said Blair.
In the end, however, his decision had been "divisive, and I am sorry about that."
Outside, hundreds of demonstrators, wearing Blair masked and carrying a symbolic coffin to make their point, demanded that Blair should be punished for his "war crimes."
Blair had slipped through a back door into the session chamber to avoid the protesters and the media ranged outside, but during the televised proceedings inside, he showed little sign of a lack of courage or conviction.
"I believe still today that we cannot afford the possibility that nations - rogue states - are allowed to develop weapons of mass destruction," he said.
"He (Saddam) was a threat, and he had the intention, and the financial means, to develop these weapons, and if he had done so we would have lost our nerve," said Blair, raising his finger to illustrate the point.
Blair, who is now the United Nations special representative to the Middle East, placed his decision to back the US unreservedly firmly in the context of the trauma of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US.
"If those people inspired by this religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000, they would have ...," said Blair. "From that moment on, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Iraq ... all of that had to be stopped."
Throughout the questioning by the five-member panel, Blair appeared in complete control of his brief, reading from government documents, smiling at times, or raising his arms to illustrate a point.
He referred repeatedly to his 10-year stint as prime minister, his wide international experience and his skills in handling the media, appearing at times to be directing the proceedings, rather than being in the witness stand.
Anti-war groups and media commentators had heralded Blair's appearance as his "judgement day" that would define his political legacy and "end his political career."
But many will have been frustrated and disappointed that Blair showed little regret or contrition, and remained far from offering an apology to the suffering of families who lost loved ones in the war.
"Actually, I felt sick," said Rose Gentle, a mother who lost a son in Iraq. "He (Blair) had a smirk on his face and he made the families very angry."
Robert Fox, the Evening Standard's defence commentator, described Blair's performance an "exercise in slick lawyer-speak and political obfuscation."
But the hearing, he believed, nonetheless marked a turning point in British legal, military and political history.
"No British prime minister will ever again be able to nudge the country to war in the shambolic way the Blair government did in 2003," Fox said.