NEW YORK -- Tony Blair has apologised for “some of the mistakes” of the Iraq War, it was revealed on Saturday. The former British prime minister told CNN he regretted failing to plan properly for the aftermath followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the false intelligence upon which justification for the invasion was built.
The apology was lablled a "prebuttal" - an attempt to pre-empt the long-delayed Chilcot Report into the war which is expected to criticise Whitehall and Westminster over the war that has come to define Blair's public image and his premiership.
“I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong," Blair said during an interview with the broadcaster. "I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime."
Quizzed by host Fareed Zakaria if the invasion of Iraq was responsible for the rise of the Islamic State, Blair conceded “there are elements of truth in that,” adding: "Of course you can't say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”
At one point, Zakaria accuses the former PM of being President Bush’s "poodle" over the conflict. The candid interview is scheduled to air in the UK on CNN at 11am and 7pm on Sunday. Zakaria's talk with Blair is part of a one-hour special called 'Long Road To Hell: America In Iraq,' which will air in full at 1am on Tuesday morning in the UK.
Blair’s concessions were met with incredulity by Nicola Sturgeon who accused the former Labour leader of smoothing the ground ahead of likely critical findings of the Chilcot Inquiry. "The Blair spin operation begins but the country still awaits the truth," Scotland’s first minister posted on Twitter. "The delay to Chilcot report is a scandal."
The Blair spin operation begins but the country still awaits the truth. The delay to Chilcot report is a scandal. https://t.co/pPhRcZzGrc— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) October 24, 2015
Chilcot has already notified Blair, along with the other British architects of the Iraq War, about the verdict reached in his long-awaited report.
Blair's latest interview stands in contrast to his defiance in 2004, when the then-PM told MPS he would “not apologise for the conflict.” He repeated this stance in 2007.
On Saturday, a spokeswoman for Blair tried to diminish the sea change, suggesting this had “all been said before.” Blair had “always apologised for the intelligence being wrong and for mistakes in planning,” the spokesperson said, adding: "He [Blair] has always also said, and says again here, that he does not however think it was wrong to remove Saddam. He did not say the decision to remove Saddam in 2003 'caused ISIS' and pointed out that ISIS was barely heard of at the end of 2008, when al Qaida was basically beaten.”
Last week, it was revealed former US Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote a memo to President George W Bush in 2002, a year before the invasion, stating that "Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary." The note emerged as part of the US court order to publish thousands of emails received by Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State under President Obama.
On Sunday, Lord Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, revealed he sought assurances from Blair regarding the planning for the aftermath. “Tony was not able to say what was going to happen when combat operations were over,” said Blunkett. “He just decided to trust Cheney and Rumsfeld," referring to the then-US vice president and defence secretary.