In a moment of apparently uncharacteristic candour former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair hinted that his 2003 invasion of Iraq likely played a role in the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS).
Mr. Blair told CNN in an interview on Sunday that there are “elements of truth” in the claim that the US-led invasion was the principle cause behind the emergence of the group.
“Of course, you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015” he told Fareed Zakaria, his interviewer.
Despite this admission, however, the former Prime Minister was careful to portray his mistakes as reasonable given the circumstances and to qualify his admission of responsibility.
“It’s important also to realize, one, that the Arab Spring which began in 2011 would also have had its impact on Iraq today, and two, ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.”
Unfortunately, in so qualifying his remarks Mr. Blair strayed a little from the truth. As Martin Chulov reported in the Guardian last December, ISIS was formed through connections made in Camp Bucca, an American prison base in Iraq, not in Syria as Mr. Blair maintained.
But it wasn’t just the claims about ISIS that drew attention; Mr. Blair also used the interview as an opportunity to express his contrition.
“I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong” he told CNN, referring to the reports that formed the basis for the invasion. “I can also apologize, by the way, for some of the mistakes in planning and certainly our mistaken… understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
Mr. Blair’s detractors have criticized the timing of his apologies, coming just after the opening of a long-delayed public inquiry into the invasion. Its chair, Sir John Chilcot, has made it clear that he intends his report to be thorough and critical where it needs to be, threatening to open the former Prime Minister to fresh criticism over the actions of his government.
Mr. Blair’s office has denied allegations that the interview was meant to preempt the findings of the inquiry.