POLITICS

Tony Blair Confronted Over Iraq War Following Chilcot Delay

21/01/2015 13:37 GMT | Updated 21/01/2015 13:59 GMT
Olivier Douliery/ABACA
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush speak at the White House in Washington, DC, 17 May 2007 during their last joint press conference together. Britain under new leadership will remain a "steadfast" ally of the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Blair said Thursday.

Tony Blair has rejected claims that the invasion of Iraq fuelled the current wave of Islamic terrorism as it emerged the inquiry into the UK's involvement in the conflict will not be published until after the general election.

A spokesman for the former prime minister also this afternoon rejected any suggestion that Blair was responsible for the delay in the report of the Chilcot Inquiry.

"We have repeatedly said that it is not true to say that Tony Blair has caused the delay in the report’s publication," Blair's spokesman said in a statement.

"Incorrect allegations and politically motivated speculation do nothing to shine a light on the issues involved. It is an independent inquiry and it should be allowed to proceed with its work."

On Wednesday morning, Sir John Chilcot confirmed the final report of his six-year probe into Britain's involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq will not be published before May. David Cameron has said Chilcot should agree to appear before the Commons foreign affairs committee to explain the delay.

The report is expected to be critical of the way Blair led the country to war. The former prime minister, who was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos today, was told he had "great responsibility" for the conflicts and terrorism that has taken place since 2003.

A delegate was met with applause after he told Blair that his "decision to go there with Mr Bush is a part of this problem" of extremism.

Responding, Blair blamed a "closed minded" view of the world for the extremist threat and insisted it was right to oust Saddam Hussein.

You can have a debate about whether this was the right or the wrong decision. But I would also point out, and I think many people in Iraq would, that Saddam Hussein wasn't exactly a force for stability, peace and prosperity for his country and was responsible for killing many, many hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

"So, look, we can debate this but what interests me is that there is always a reason - you are suggesting the extremism all comes from that decision. But then we see the extremism in France that, by the way, was opposed to Iraq, and then it's the cartoons."

sir john chilcot

The delays to the publication of a major report into Britain's role in the Iraq war do not appear to be down to senior politicians trying to "dodge" criticism, Cameron said today amid demands for an explanation.

The prime minister insisted there was "no mystery" behind the confirmation that the Chilcot panel's findings would not be revealed before the general election.

Chilcot told the PM in a letter that "very substantial progress" had been made towards completing his six-year probe and agreement reached on what details from notes and conversations between Blair and US president George Bush will be published.

Delays to the publication of a major report into Britain's role in the Iraq war do not appear to be down to senior politicians trying to "dodge" criticism, David Cameron said amid demands for an explanation.

The Prime Minister insisted there was "no mystery" behind the confirmation by Iraq Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot that his panel's findings would not be revealed before May's general election.

Sir John Chilcot told the PM in a letter that "very substantial progress" had been made towards completing his six-year probe and agreement reached on what details from notes and conversations between former PM Tony Blair and US president George Bush will be published.

But he conceded that there was "no realistic prospect" of this being done before the May 7 poll "whilst being fair to all those involved".

The hold-up provoked widespread condemnation, with the chair of the Commons foreign affairs select committee saying there could be "no justification whatsoever" and revealing Sir John had been summoned to explain the delays in public.

Nick Clegg called the hold-up "incomprehensible", Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was "increasingly unacceptable" and Ukip leader Nigel Farage said it "smacks of an establishment cover-up, and one which I suggest the British public will see right through".

Cameron, who had previously expressed his own frustration at the slow progress, said he accepted Sir John's decisions but wanted to see the report published as quickly as possible after May.

But the prime minister played down speculation that the process was being deliberately hampered by senior figures who could face criticism over their roles - something repeatedly denied by Blair. "My understanding is that there is no mystery in why this is taking so long," Cameron said.

The inquiry was set up by then prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009 and took public evidence from its last witness in 2011, but publication has been held up by wrangling over the release of the confidential messages and the so-called "Maxwellisation" process by which people who are criticised in the report are given the chance to respond.

Ed Miliband said he too hoped it would be published "as soon as possible" but the Labour leader was accused by the PM of contributing to the delays by voting against Tory attempts to have an inquiry set up before 2009.