Chilcot fallout: 'Untouchable' Blair driven to war in Iraq by success in Belfast, Sierra Leone and Kosovo, claims ex-Army chief Collins
Tony Blair was "drunk on his own self-importance" when he ordered the invasion of Iraq, one of the highest ranking officers in the Army at that time has claimed.
Colonel Tim Collins told the Belfast Telegraph that the Chilcot report was more candid than he had expected, but that its contents had not surprised him.
The Belfast-born commander led the Royal Irish Regiment into Iraq in March, 2003.
He said at the time they believed there had been a plan in place for the aftermath.
In the wake of the findings of the Chilcot report, he offered a damning assessment of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"It may well be he was actually drunk on his self-importance having had successes in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, and having brokered the Good Friday Agreement, he genuinely believed he could do no wrong," he said.
"He is clearly not going to apologise, I think that if I was his solicitor I would caution against doing that because I would say that this is by no means over. This is just the beginning of it."
Colonel Collins said he believes the Chilcot report will help to address the issues raised by the invasion of Iraq.
"It was much more candid than I was expecting. I think that while it will be cold comfort to the families of people who were killed, I think it goes a long way to addressing things we knew were a problem," he said.
When asked if any of the report surprised him, he simply replied, "No".
"We were not aware of it at the time, obviously. We were under the impression there was a plan and it is now clear there was no actual plan for the aftermath," he said.
"There was a plan for the invasion but no plan for the aftermath. That was unclear at the time, we simply assumed there would be a plan."
Colonel Collins said he was "astonished such a thing could happen in the modern world".
"But clearly it did, and while one quickly became aware there was no plan, I found it amazing that within the Government no one was saying you should have known better, you should have been doing something," he said.
"The military had their opportunity to make their minds known to Tony Blair.
"I haven't read the report in detail yet, but I am curious to see whether they did or didn't tell Tony Blair.
"It is clear now from the Chilcot report that not all the options for peace were exhausted when they decided to go to war.
"That would suggest he had an intention to go to war." Colonel Collins famously gave a rousing speech to the Royal Irish before they deployed to Iraq.
He revealed one of the motivations for it was to "fill the gap" of information.
"Most of them, to my knowledge, had never been to war before. It was a very young battalion which I had more or less recruited during my time in office," he said.
"With large numbers of fathers and sons in the battalion I wanted them to understand really what was about to happen.
"I felt that someone owed them that explanation and as the war had begun I was the only one who could give them that explanation.
"There was no one else around to do so.
"I don't think there was any information at the time."
Colonel Collins added that war should always be the last resort.
"I think that there is no doubt for anyone who has ever been to Iraq or had any dealings with Iraq or Saddam's regime that it was a very bad thing and had to be dealt with," he said.
"But as Chilcot said, there were other options which were not fully explored, so those should have been exhausted before going to war. War should be the very last resort."