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Did Tony Blair Really Apologise for the Iraq War?

05/11/2015 10:42 | Updated 04 November 2016

"Historic moment Tony Blair FINALLY apologises for Iraq War" said the Mail on Sunday headline on 25 October 2015, following an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN. But did he really apologise for the Iraq war?

Zakaria asked him:

"Given that Saddam Hussein did not prove to have weapons of mass destruction, was the decision to enter Iraq and topple his regime a mistake?"

He didn't answer that very pertinent question and unfortunately Zakaria didn't press him to do so. But, his reply included the following: "I can say that I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong" about Iraq's so-called "weapons of mass destruction". Of course, he wasn't personally responsible for this intelligence: the UK's intelligence services were.

He was personally responsible for misrepresenting the intelligence and other matters and, by so doing, he greatly exaggerated in public the threat from Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" as judged by the intelligence services. Without that, he may not have been able to get parliamentary endorsement for military action against Iraq. He has yet to apologise for any of that.

Information about these misrepresentations has been in the public domain for many years. As long ago as 2003, I submitted evidence the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee about them (which the Committee ignored). An invaluable source for them is A Case to Answer (Chapter I) by Glen Rangwala, which was compiled in 2004.

"Small quantities" became "stockpiles"
The following is an example of Tony Blair's exaggeration of the intelligence he received.

A Joint Intelligence Committee assessment of 15 March 2002 stated:

"Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programmes is sporadic and patchy. [...] From the evidence available to us, we believe Iraq retains some production equipment, and some small stocks of CW agent precursors, and may have hidden small quantities of agents and weapons. [...] There is no intelligence on any BW agent production facilities but one source indicates that Iraq may have developed mobile production facilities." (Butler report, Annex B)


Yet, a few weeks later on 3 April 2002, he told NBC news:

"We know that he [Saddam Hussein] has stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons, we know that he is trying to acquire nuclear capability, we know that he is trying to develop ballistic missile capability of a greater range."


There, he transformed the "small quantities" that might exist, according to the intelligence assessment, into "stockpiles" that definitely do exist.

This was not an isolated instance of exaggeration, which had accidentally slipped out: he made several statements around that time expressing certainty about Iraq's possession and continued production of proscribed weapons that was not warranted by the intelligence at that time.

For example, on 3 March 2002, he told Australia's Channel Nine: "We know they are trying to accumulate weapons of mass destruction".

On 11 March 2002, at a press conference in Downing Street with US Vice-President Dick Cheney, he said that "there is a threat from Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction that he has acquired is not in doubt at all".

He should consider apologising for all that.


Weapons production "beyond doubt"?

Another notorious example is in his foreword to the dossier Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government published in September 2002. In it, he wrote:

"What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons ..."

This certainty was unwarranted by the available intelligence. A report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) of the House of Commons published in September 2003, criticised this certainty, saying it "could give the impression that Saddam was actively producing both chemical and biological weapons and significant amounts of agents". Indeed it could.

The reality was very different. According to the ISC, the intelligence services didn't know what agents had been produced and in what quantities, and what quantities, if any, had been put into weapons. The ISC concluded:

"We believe that this uncertainty should have been highlighted to give a balanced view of Saddam's chemical and biological capacity."

He should consider apologising for that.

"Unaccounted for" material exists?
In the months before the invasion, he also frequently misled the public about what UN inspectors had said about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons. For years, the Iraqi regime had claimed that all their chemical and biological weapons and agents had been destroyed. It was not the contention of UN inspectors that Iraq was lying, merely that it had not provided adequate documentary or other proof that the material had been destroyed. Until Iraq did so, the inspectors deemed that material "unaccounted for".

In other words, at no time did UN inspectors rule out the possibility that Iraq had no proscribed weapons or material at all - which turned out to be the case.

However, in the lead up to the invasion, Tony Blair regularly gave the impression that, according to the UN, Iraq had a treasure trove of chemical and biological weapons and agents, when all the inspectors had said was that material was "unaccounted for". For example, he told MPs on 18 March 2003, when they voted for military action:

"When the inspectors left in 1998, they left unaccounted for 10,000 litres of anthrax; a far-reaching VX nerve agent programme; up to 6,500 chemical munitions; at least 80 tonnes of mustard gas, and possibly more than 10 times that amount; unquantifiable amounts of sarin, botulinum toxin and a host of other biological poisons; and an entire Scud missile programme. We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years--contrary to all history contrary to all intelligence - Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd."

There, Tony Blair stated as a fact that proscribed material deemed "unaccounted for" by UN inspectors actually existed. In doing so, he seriously misled the House of Commons. He should consider apologising for that.

This egregious misrepresentation was compounded by the fact he failed to tell MPs that, if these chemical and biological agents did exist, by 2003 most of them would have degraded to such an extent that they would no longer be effective as warfare agents. (See UN document Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programmes published on 6 March 2003, pages 73, 82 and 101). He should consider apologising for that.


Chirac said "no" in present circumstances

And then there is his lie about what President Chirac said in a TV interview on 10 March 2003. At that time, Tony Blair was trying to get members of the Security Council to support a second resolution, which would have been interpreted as authorising military action. However, he had managed to persuade only two other members of the Security Council (Spain and Bulgaria) to vote for it.

In his speech to MPs on 18 March 2003, he blamed President Chirac for this failure, saying:

"Last Monday [10 March], we were getting very close with it [the second resolution]. We very nearly had the majority agreement. ... Then, on Monday night, France said that it would veto a second resolution, whatever the circumstances."

This, according to Tony Blair, frightened off Security Council members who were on the brink of voting "yes" and ended any possibility that the second resolution would get majority support.

In fact, President Chirac didn't say that France would veto a second resolution "whatever the circumstances". On the contrary, he made it crystal clear that there were circumstances in which France would vote for a second resolution authorising military action, namely, if the UN inspectors reported that, because of obstruction by the Iraqi regime, they couldn't do their job. But that wasn't the case on 10 March 2003. Then, inspections were proceeding more or less unhindered and the inspectors were asking for more time to complete their mission. In those particular circumstances, President Chirac announced that France would vote "no" to allow inspections to continue.

But to excuse his failure to get majority support in the Security Council for the second resolution, Tony Blair claimed that President Chirac had said that France would always veto military action - and he set in train a media campaign to blame France for his failure. His EU adviser from 2000 to 2004, Stephen Wall confirmed to the Chilcot inquiry that he had witnessed Tony Blair in a Downing Street corridor give Alastair Campbell "his marching orders to play the anti-French card with the Sun and others".

Tony Blair should consider apologising for that.

(For a fuller account of his misrepresentations, see Lies, half-truths and omissions on the road to war against Iraq).

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