POLITICS

William Hague Defends Tony Blair, Says 2003 Iraq Invasion Not The Cause For Instability

16/06/2014 11:21 BST | Updated 16/06/2014 11:59 BST

William Hague has played down the role of the invasion of Iraq in triggering the violent crisis in the country, as Tony Blair is mercilessly attacked for his role in it as prime minister.

The Foreign Secretary, who was Tory leader before the war when Blair was prime minister, said that, although mistakes were made in the aftermath of the invasion, other factors such as sectarian rivalries were stirring trouble in the Middle East.

By the standards of what other people have been saying, this is a strong defence of the former PM.

The comments came as Blair was slaughtered in the press and by old colleagues and rivals. Boris Johnson called him "mad" and unhinged" for denying the war was a cause of the current crisis, as Sunni militants ISIS tear across the country.

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Hague, who backed the 2003 invasion in the Commons, insisted it was not an error to send in troops, but highlighted a series of blunders after Saddam Hussein had been overthrown.

"No, I don't think the invasion itself was a mistake. I have always thought that many mistakes occurred in the aftermath of the invasion," he said.

"It is entirely possible to say that it was the right thing to remove Saddam Hussein but that mistakes we made in the aftermath.

"It is possible to argue that Western intervention makes these problems worse, and it is possible to argue that the absence of Western intervention makes these problems worse...

"The truth about intervention is that it is only right when it is a last resort, when it either has limited objectives or a comprehensive plan working with regional and local leaders to go with it."

US President Barack Obama is weighing up what help to give Baghdad to counter the al Qaida-inspired ISIS, which has taken control of major cities in the north.

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Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Hague said there was currently no prospect of Britain being involved in any military intervention in Iraq.

"We're not planning a military intervention by the UK in this situation," he said.

"The US is much more likely to have the assets and capabilities for any outside intervention than the UK."

But he added: "There is a very heavy responsibility on Iraq's leadership to tackle this, but that does not mean that nobody else should help at all. There are ways in which we can help.

"Over the weekend we announced humanitarian assistance for people displaced in the north. I've said that we might be able to help with counter-terrorism expertise. We are looking at that now.

"I don't want to go into the details because obviously that then makes it more difficult to operate."

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Hague said the West had to work with "moderate forces" in the Middle East to try to tackle underlying problems.

"I don't think this entire business should be seen through the prism of Western intervention or not," he said.

"There are other major forces at work here - the growth of sectarianism in the Middle East, rivalry between different states in the Middle East, the rise of religious intolerance - which are not necessarily provoked or subdued by Western intervention."

The Foreign Secretary also dismissed criticism of his high-profile appearances with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie last week, as the crisis in Iraq gathered pace.

The pair were co-hosting a conference on preventing rape in war.

"This was about conflict prevention... the idea that we can never deal with long- term issues because there is always something short term, I always find rather ridiculous," he added.