Iraq Inquiry Special Afternoon Session: Tony Blair

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    3rd February, 2010

    [Catching up time again. Thanks to Julie for this and for the previous post on the evidence of the former prime minister last Friday.]

    Iraq Inquiry Special Afternoon Session: Tony Blair

    By Julie

    These are the most significant quotes from the session of the Iraq Inquiry with former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    You can read the full transcript of the session here

    And you can watch the video here


    29th  of January 2010: Afternoon  session: Evidence

    • Rt  Hon Tony Blair


    “Yes, I think that is a fair summary of the legal background. I would say, however, just one point, Sir Roderic, which is that what was so important to me about Resolution 1441 was not simply that it declared Saddam in breach, gave him a final opportunity, but it said also, in op 4, that a failure to comply unconditionally and immediately and fully with the inspectors was itself a further material breach. This was extremely important for us to secure in that resolution, and we did secure it, and what we kept out of 1441 was an attempt to ensure that we had to go back for another decision.”

    “Now, we had begun military preparations even before we got the first resolution, the 1441 resolution. We had to do that, otherwise we would never have been in a position to take military action. But let me make it absolutely clear, if Peter in the end had said, “This cannot be justified lawfully”, we would have been unable to take action.”

    “It was always a very, very difficult balance to judgment, but the important thing was, in the end, that Peter came to the view and I think anybody who knows him knows that he would not express this view unless he thought it and believed it he came to the view that, on balance, the breach by Saddam Hussein of Resolution 1441 was sufficient, provided it was a breach of the obligations set out in op 4”

    “It was the introduction of the external elements of AQ and Iran that really caused this mission very nearly to fail. Fortunately, in the end, it didn’t, and the reason why that is important is that that itself, in my view, is a huge lesson, because those are the same forces that we are now facing, Afghanistan right round the region.”

    “There was very much discussion of the Shia/Sunni issue, and we were very well aware of that. What there wasn’t and this, again, is of vital importance and this certainly is lesson in any situation similar to this people did not believe that you would have AlQaeda coming in from outside and people did not believe that you would end up in a situation where Iran, once, as it were, the threat of Saddam was removed from them, would then try to deliberately destabilise the country, but that’s what they did, and there are some very important lessons in that, because what is important also to understand throughout this process, the Iraqi people, as a people, were not in favour of the violence, they were not in favour of sectarianism. As a people, they supported and have supported throughout the political process. Indeed today in Iraq you have now got, for the elections that are coming up, groups who are overtly nonsectarian standing for election, which is a huge thing for the whole of the Middle East and a great thing incidentally. So I think what I think in future you have to be aware of is that if you are dealing with a country where you are likely to get this as I say, this perversion of the proper faith of Islam as a major element in the equation, you are going to have to prepare for that very carefully. Your troop configuration has got to be prepared for it and you are going to have to be prepared for quite a fight over it.”

    “I also sent Jack to talk to the Iranians. A very big lesson from this for me was that we tried with the Iranians, tried very hard to reach out, to in a sense make an agreement with them, to give them a strong indication that it wasn’t the American forces were not there, having done Iraq, to move through to Iran or any of the rest of it and one of the most disappointing, but also, I think, most telling aspects of this is that the Iranians, whatever they said, from the beginning, were a major destabilising factor in this situation and quite deliberately.”

    “At the time and you know, we know so much more about these groups and how they operate now, but, at the time, the single thing people were most determined to prove was, in a sense, they were two separate problems, because the Americans had raised this question of a link between Saddam and AlQaeda, and, really, our system in Britain was determined to say, “No, come on, keep the two things separate. We are not saying Saddam had anything to do with September 11″, and that was very much how AlQaeda were seen. Now, I think and this is a very interesting point because it is absolutely goes to the 2010 point that I raised earlier. My view is, if we had left Saddam there, and he had carried on, as we said, with the intent to develop these weapons and the knowhow and the concealment programme, and the sanctions had gone, I have little doubt myself but it is a judgment and other people may take a different judgment that today we would be facing a situation where Iraq was competing with Iran, competing both on nuclear weapons capability and competing more importantly, perhaps, than anything else competing, as well as the nuclear issue, in respect of support of terrorist groups.”

    “It is a constant problem for Israel. They get attacked, they then use great force in retaliating. Before you have gone two weeks, they are the people who have started it all.”

    “Here is the point that I think we have got to get ourselves into in the western world, if I can put it like this, or when we are doing these types of operations: yes, it is our responsibility, but let’s be quite clear why we face the difficulty. We face the difficulty because these people were prepared to go and kill any number of completely innocent people in suicide bombings, because, as you know, in the first half of 2004, I think we had 30, in the first half of 2005 that then went up to 200. We should be prepared to take these people on, and the fact that they are prepared to act like this should not be a reason for our not being there or fighting them.”

    “However much you plan, and whatever forces you have, if you have these elements, AQ on the one side, Iran on the other, who are prepared to destabilise, you are going to be in a tough, longdrawnout, difficult situation, but my point is very simple: the fact that these people, in breach of not just the rules of international law, but humanity, are prepared to do these terrible things in order to frustrate the will of the Iraqi people should not mean we back away from confronting them. We should be there with the Iraqi people, alongside them, as we did and were in the end, in order to make sure that, having been released from Saddam, they were then released from the reign of terror. I do speak to Iraqis, and I spoke to one just a few days back who said to me, “We have changed the certainty of repression for the uncertainty of democratic politics”. He said, “It is difficult and challenging, but the progress is extraordinary”, and nobody would want to go back to the days when they had no freedom and no opportunity and no hope. So I understand what you are saying, but and we do have to take our responsibilities seriously in these situations, but we are in exactly the same situation now in Afghanistan, and heaven knows where we will be in the same situation again in the future, and the lesson out of it, in my view, is you have got to be prepared for the long haul and you have got to be prepared to stick it through to the end.”

    “And just to say some of the things that I think are taking place in Iraq today, if you look, for example, at the electricity, you look at income per head, which is several times what it was under Saddam, you look at now the money that is being spent on infrastructure, I think, yes, it was a very, very difficult fight indeed, it was always going to be difficult once these external factors came into play of AQ and Iran, but, sure, when you go into a nation building situation in the future, I think we will be far better prepared and better educated than we were then. I would just give one if we are talking about was it worth it in terms of the Iraqis themselves, if you look at the latest information from the Brookings Institute and the polls that they are doing about the right direction, wrong direction for their country, they are actually upbeat about the future. You know, if you look at whether they believe that security and services are getting better, a majority of them think they are, despite all the trouble, despite the fact these terrorists carry on. Let me just give you one example of where I think you can see both the nature, since we are talking about how is it for Iraqis because the Iraqis were themselves less worried about the issues to do with United Nations and so on; they were worried about their country and the oppression. Just focus for a moment on what the Saddam Hussein regime was like. In 2000 and 2001 and 2002 they had a child mortality rate of 130 per 1,000 children under the age of five, worse than the Congo. That was despite the fact that Saddam had as much money as he wanted for immunisation programmes and medicines for those children. That equates to roughly about 90,000 deaths under the age of five a year. The figure today is not 130, it is 40. That equates to about 50,000 young people, children, who, as a result of a different regime that cares about its people that’s the result that getting rid of Saddam makes. And you can talk to Iraqis, of course, who will say to you, some of them, particularly those from the Sunni side still worried about whether they will be able to come into the politics and some of them may say, “Well, I don’t believe it was worth it.” But I think if you ask the majority of Iraqis today, “Would you really prefer, with all the challenges that lie ahead, to be back under Saddam?” I think you would get a pretty overwhelming answer to that question.”

    “I had to take this decision as Prime Minister and it was a huge responsibility then, and there is not a single day that passes by that I don’t reflect and think about that responsibility, and so I should. But I genuinely believe that if we had left Saddam in power, even with what we know now, we would still have had to have dealt with him, possibly in circumstances where the threat was worse and possibly in circumstances where it was hard to mobilise any support for dealing with that threat. I think we live in a completely new security environment today. I thought that then, I think that now. It is why I have said this to you a number of times today I ake a very hard, tough line on Iran today, and many of the same arguments apply. In the end it was divisive, and I’m sorry about that and I tried my level best to bring people back together again, but if I’m asked whether I believe we are safer, more secure, that Iraq is better, our own security is better with Saddam and his two sons out of power and out of office than in office, I indeed believe that we are, and I think in time to come, if Iraq becomes, as I hope and believe that it will, the country that its people want to see, then we can look back, and particularly our armed forces can look back, with an immense sense of pride and achievement in what they did.”

    “Responsibility but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein. I think that he was a monster, I believe he threatened, not just the region but the world, and in the circumstances that we faced then, but I think even if you look back now, it was better to deal with this threat, to deal with it, to remove him from office, and I do genuinely believe that the world is safer as a result. I know sometimes, because this happens out in the region, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, Saddam was a brake on Iran”. Let’s be clear, there is another view of foreign policy in this instance, which is the way, if we had left Saddam in place, he would have controlled Iran better. I really think it is time we learned, as a matter of sensible foreign policy, that the way to deal with one dictatorial threat is not to back another, that actually the best answer to what is happening in Iran is to allow the Iraqi people the freedom and democratic choice that we enjoy in countries like ours.”

    Important exchanges

    BLAIR: My judgment, having spoken to Jacques Chirac and we kept perfectly good lines open, actually, through this, and I was very anxious to make sure for the aftermath situation that we came back together again in the UN Security Council. So I wasn’t, you know, trying to be in a position where France and Britain, as it were, fell out, but it was very, very clear to me the French, the Germans and the Russians had decided they weren’t going to be in favour of this and there was a straightforward division, frankly, and I don’t think it would have mattered how much time we had taken, they weren’t going to agree that force should be used.

    LYNE: In any circumstances, at any time, on this track?

    BLAIR: Unless there had been something absolutely dramatic that the inspectors had uncovered. That might have made a difference to them, but the mere fact that he was in breach of 1441, despite this being his final opportunity, my judgment, I have to say and I think this is pretty clear is that there was by then a political divide on this, of a pretty fundamental nature.

    BLAIR: The further resolution was clearly politically preferable. For us, if you can get everybody back on the same page again, it is clearly preferable, but if you actually examine the circumstances of 1441, the whole point about it and this is the argument I used with the Americans successfully to get them to go down this route and by the way, I should just point out, at the end of October 2002, I remember specifically a conversation with President Bush in which I said, “If he complies, that’s it”. There is no

    LYNE: Yes, I think you mentioned this earlier

    BLAIR: But this is important, because people sometimes say it was all kind of cast in stone from

    LYNE: But wasn’t Number 10 saying to the White House in January and February, even into March, that it was essential, from the British perspective, because of our reading of the law, to have a second resolution?

    BLAIR: It was politically, we were saying

    LYNE: Not merely preferable, but essential.

    BLAIR: No. Politically, we were saying it was going to be very hard for us. Indeed, it was going to be very hard for us.

    LYNE: Weren’t we saying it was legall necessary for us, because that was his advice?

    BLAIR: What we said was, legally, it resolves that question obviously beyond any dispute. On the other hand, for the reasons that I have given, Peter, in the end, decided that actually a case could be made out for doing this without another resolution, and, as I say, did so, I think, for perfectly good reasons.

    LYNE: Well, it must have been of considerable relief to you, on 13 March, when he told you that he had come to the better view that the revival argument worked, because, at that point, he had given you, subject to you making the determination, the clear legal grounds that you needed.

    BLAIR: Yes, and the reason why he had done that was really very obvious, which was that the Blix reports indicated quite clearly that Saddam had not taken that final opportunity.

    LYNE: But he had done it in disagreement with the international lawyers, all of them, as we understand from Sir Michael Wood, then in the government’s employ.

    BLAIR: I seem to remember but I may be wrong on this; if I am, forgive me but I think that he had also sought the advice of Christopher Greenwood QC.

    LYNE: He had, and we discussed that, and it didn’t appear from our discussion that there were many other people outside government arguing in the same direction that Lord Goldsmith eventually argued.

    BLAIR: Obviously, other countries, of course, were having the same issues as well and having to decide this and it wasn’t I don’t think it is right to say it was irrelevant that the American lawyers had come to a different view.

    LYNE: Clearly not irrelevant, because it had a big impact on him, but, apart from America, were there other countries in which we have heard recently what a Dutch review has found on this, but were there other countries in which people were arguing in favour of the revival argument?

    BLAIR: I think all countries who took the military action believed they had a sound legal basis for doing so. All I am pointing out is, actually, when you analyse 1441, it is less surprising as a conclusion to come to than as sometimes is made out today, because the fact is1441 was very deliberately constructed. It had, if you like, a certain sort of integrity as a resolution to it. It basically said, “Okay, one last chance. One last chance, Saddam, to prove that you have had a change of heart, that you are going to cooperate”, and he didn’t.

    LYNE: We are not lawyers, we have simply listened to the views of lawyers, Lord Goldsmith, Sir Michael Wood, Ms Wilmshurst, Mr Brummell, and looked at what they told us about the balance of legal opinion on this subject. Lord Goldsmith obviously was not in a position in which he had wide support within the international legal fraternity within the government, indeed any, I think, in the UK, when he made his judgment. But he is a lawyer of the highest eminence and they accepted his authority, even if they didn’t agree with it. So that was the final position.

    BLAIR: Sorry, forgive me, Sir Roderic. All I’m trying to say is, when you actually go back and read 1441, it is pretty obvious that you can make a decent case for this.

    LYNE: Well, let me not pass judgment on that. I’m asking questions and I do not have an opinion to state on it. I would just like to ask one final question to wrap up this legal chapter, and this is really you were in the position, ultimately, where you had to give this determination. You had to go through with the action, Lord Goldsmith was preparing with the assistance of Christopher Greenwood for the possibility of legal challenge. He knew that he had taken a decision that some others, many others, perhaps, were arguing with and were going to argue with, and he had put something to you that was described as a reasonable case, but, nevertheless, not one that he would have confidently put before a court. You then had to decide whether you were convinced that this was a strong enough legal basis to take a very serious action of participating in a full-scale invasion of another country. How convinced were you, at this point, that you had a strong legal case for doing what you did?

    BLAIR: I would put it in this way. What I needed to know from him was, in the end, was he going to say this was lawful? He had to come to conclusion in the end, and I was a lawyer myself, I wrote many, many opinions for clients, and they tend to be, “On the one hand … on the other hand”, but you come to a conclusion in the end and he had to come to that conclusion. Incidentally, I think he wasn’t alone in international law in coming to that conclusion, for very obvious reasons, because, as I say, if you read the words in 1441 it is pretty clear this was Saddam’s last chance. So that was what he had to do. He did it. As I say, anybody who knows Peter knows he would not have done it unless he believed in it and thought it was the correct thing to do, and that was for us and for our armed forces, that was sufficient.

    LYNE: You weren’t worried by him saying that he wouldn’t expect to win in a court with this one.

    BLAIR: I do not know that he said “not to win”, he simply said, you know, there is a case either way and there always was a case either way. That’s why it would have been preferable, politically, and to have removed any doubt, to have had the second resolution, but in the end, we got to the point in the middle of March when, frankly, we had to decide. We were going either to back away or we were going to go forward, and I decided, for the reasons that I have given, that we should go forward.

    PRASHAR: But was that assurance given to you because they wanted to give you a view that they had a “can do” approach?

    BLAIR: No, the one thing about the military, in my experience, is they tell you very bluntly, quite rightly, what their situation is, what they want, what they don’t want, and what they think about things, and Mike was very, very clear that they had the readiness. I think there were something like 250 different urgent operational requirements that went into this. All of them I think Kevin Tebbitt told you this were properly met, and, incidentally, had anyone at any stage come to me and said, “It is not safe to do this because of the lack of proper military preparation”, I would have taken that very, very seriously indeed, but they didn’t, and they got on with it, and they did it magnificently, as they always do.

    PRASHAR: But the point is the formal approval did not come until January anyway, and, in fact, we do know that that was the case, the equipment was late.

    BLAIR: I didn’t know I mean, as I say, there are, as it were, issues to do with logistics that they are far better able to tell you about. All I know is that they regard themselves as ready, and what is more, they performed as ready. They did an extraordinary job.

    PRASHAR: I now want to turn to the sort of general aftermath planning, because, on 21 January 2003, you were giving evidence to the Liaison Committee. You said: “We cannot engage in military conflict and ignore the aftermath. In other words, if we at this stage of military conflict, we also have to get a very proper worked out plan as to what happens afterwards and how the international community supports that …” Several witnesses have told us that the planning and the resources for the aftermath of war was important, if not more important than the planning for resourcing the war itself. Now, what happened? Because you know, this was inadequate and a lot of people have said it didn’t quite work.

    BLAIR: First of all, I think we have got to divide it into two sections here. Actually, we did an immense amount of prewar planning. I think Mike Boyce said to you in his evidence that they spent as much time on Phase 4 as the other phases of the operation. We had the officials meeting obviously. We had the ad hoc meetings, we had Cabinet meetings, actually, that were discussing these issues. The real problem was that our focus was on the issues that, in the end, were not the issues that caused us the difficulty. It wasn’t an absence of planning, it was that we planned for certain eventualities and, when we got in there, we managed to deal with those eventualities, but we discovered a different set of realities and then we had to deal with those. So the vast bulk of the prewar planning was focused on the humanitarian, number one, I think probably more than anything else. Indeed, I think there was a House of Commons Select Committee report on 6 March 2003 saying you have got to do even more on the humanitarian side. All the focus was on that.

    BLAIR: I think the most reliable figures out of the Iraq body count on the Brookings Institute may be 100,000 over this whole period the coalition forces weren’t the ones doing the killing. The ones doing the killing were the terrorists, the sectarians, and they were doing it quite deliberately to stop us making the progress we wanted to make. So my attitude and I took this line very, very strongly with people when we say, “Isn’t it terrible that the death toll went to 2007, that high?” yes, it is terrible, but the first question to ask is, “Who was killing them?” and this turned out to be precisely the same people that we were trying to fight everywhere and our responsibility was to stick in there and see it through, which eventually happened with the surge, with the Charge of the Knights down in Basra, and today, of course, the situation in Iraq is very, very different and the people are better off and have a decent chance of a proper future.”

    FREEDMAN: Certainly better off than they were in 2007.

    BLAIR: Or in 2003, or 2002, or 2001.

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