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Chilcot report: Call to haul Tony Blair before the courts over Iraq war

Ex PM sorry for deaths but unrepentant over war as MP says he could be tried

By Andrew Woodcock

Published 07/07/2016

Tony Blair arrives back at his home in the wake of the publication of the Iraq Report
Tony Blair arrives back at his home in the wake of the publication of the Iraq Report
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gives his reaction in a speech at Church House in Westminster

Tony Blair is facing the threat of legal action over his decision to take the UK to war in Iraq after a long-awaited official report delivered a damning verdict on his government's justification, planning and conduct of the military intervention in 2003.

The Iraq Inquiry report said war was launched on the basis of "flawed" intelligence at a time dictator Saddam Hussein presented "no imminent threat" and diplomatic options had not been exhausted.

The intervention ended six years later "a very long way from success", with the "humiliating" spectacle of UK troops in Basra making deals with local militia who had been attacking them.

Families of some of the 179 military personnel killed in Iraq branded the former prime minister a "terrorist", while Jeremy Corbyn offered an apology on Labour's behalf for what he described as "a stain on our party and our country".

Mr Blair said he took responsibility for shortcomings identified by Sir John Chilcot's report and felt "more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know" for the grief of those whose loved ones died.

But he said he still believed he was right to remove Saddam and insisted that the inquiry's findings should "lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit".

Unveiling his report into the UK's most controversial military engagement since the end of the Second World War, inquiry chairman Sir John said the intervention "went badly wrong, with consequences to this day". He made no judgment on whether military action was legal, but said then attorney general Lord Goldsmith's decision that there was a legal basis for UK involvement in the US-led invasion was taken in a way which was "far from satisfactory".

The report did not support claims that Mr Blair agreed a deal "signed in blood" to topple Saddam at a key meeting with George Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in 2002.

But it revealed that in July that year - eight months before Parliament approved military action - the PM committed himself in writing to backing the US president over Iraq, telling him: "I will be with you whatever."

And Sir John rejected Mr Blair's claims that the bloody insurgency and terrorism which erupted following Saddam's fall could not have been foreseen.

"We do not agree that hindsight is required," said Sir John. "The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and al-Qaida activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion."

Tearful families responded with fury to the details of shortcomings uncovered by the seven-year inquiry.

A military policeman's father, Reg Keys, said it was clear that the prime minister "deliberately misled" the country and his son Tom "died in vain", while Roger Bacon, whose son Matthew was killed by a roadside bomb, said families reserved the right "to call specific parties to answer for their actions in the courts".

Sarah O'Connor, whose brother Bob died when a military plane was shot down near Baghdad in 2005, branded Mr Blair "the world's worst terrorist".

In a statement summarising his findings, Sir John said: "We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.

"We have also concluded that the judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction - WMD - were presented with a certainty that was not justified."

The report was critical of intelligence agencies, which had an "ingrained belief" that Saddam retained chemical and biological warfare capabilities which he was hiding from UN inspectors and that he was determined to acquire nuclear weapons.

Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman Sir John Scarlett should have made clear to Mr Blair that suspicions about WMD had not been established "beyond doubt".

In a press conference in London, Mr Blair said he would never agree that those who died and were injured in Iraq "made their sacrifice in vain".

"They fought in the defining global security struggle of the 21st century against the terrorism and violence which the world over destroys lives, divides communities," he said.

Shadow cabinet minister Paul Flynn said prosecution of Mr Blair should be "seriously considered", but Labour leader Mr Corbyn stopped short of calling for his predecessor to be tried for war crimes.

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced there will be a two-day parliamentary debate on the report next week.

Belfast Telegraph

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