Years after the invasion, Tony Blair apologised for the Iraq War – the war that broke Britain and left Labour in the dust
In 2015, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologised for the Iraq War during a TV interview.
In the interview, he said he regretted not planning for the aftermath of the conflict and that false intelligence was used to justify it.
He also admitted the war contributed to the rise of ISIS.
The invasion of Iraq was one of the worst political decisions of any modern British government. Both the war in Afghanistan and the later invasion of Iraq were wildly unpopular with the British public. But few could see how it would change a generation.
British politics shaped by Iraq war
The decision to go to war turned quickly into one of the most controversial decisions taken by a British prime minister. Still, those in No 10 at the time, couldn’t foresee how deeply British politics was to be shaped by Iraq over the next 20 years.
There had long been a lack of trust in politicians, but the Iraq war was of a different level. Here Britain’s politicians appear to have been doctoring the truth in an attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq.
For a country that had already protested the invasion of Afghanistan, joining the US in Iraq just a few years later would tear a hole in the fabric of trust between the British people and the Labour Party – a hole that would take over 20 years to repair.
The Iraq War simply broke Britain. It took the country further away from Europe, questioned our relationship with the US, and left us an island alone.
Blair’s war obliterated much of the domestic record of a centre-left government and turned the dynamics of the Labour Party after 2003 into a contest about how to view Blair and the war.
If the war was successful, Gordon Brown would likely not have been able to move against Blair so soon after he had won a third term.
The war had also damaged Blair’s image personally. It made him an impossible candidate for the post of European Commission president in the eyes of Angela Merkel after he left No 10.
And even Brown could not put distance between himself and the war. In his 2017 autobiography, My Life, Our Times, Brown was still seeking to absolve himself. He claimed fresh evidence showed the Pentagon actively misled the UK by withholding a highly sceptical intelligence assessment.
Tories come to power
Following Brown, David Cameron became the next UK prime minister – marking the return of a Conservative PM. The Tories have now been in power in the UK for 13 years.
Ed Miliband succeeded Brown as leader of the Labour party and like Brown, much of his leadership was consumed by how to break with the Blair legacy, including the Iraq war.
Miliband may have believed he offered a bold, New Labour, but by disowning the party’s record in government and Blair’s premiership, the only party that would benefit – and did, was the Conservatives.
Whilst the Commons backed Miliband in voting against military action in Syria in 2013, which led to David Cameron losing the vote to join the US, it did little to shake Labour free from the image of Tony Blair and his Middle East wars.
Blair’s shadow continued to linger over the party until Jeremy Corbyn came along. He did not shy away from sharing his thoughts that Blair enabled war crimes and took a strong stance against all wars.
‘one brand of conviction politics – liberal interventionism – eventually led to another – Brexit’
His successor, Sir Keir Starmer, who clambered the party back to the centre of politics, is an opponent of the Iraq war on mostly legal grounds.
But Starmer’s centrist approach has worked. Along with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Labour Party has been given the chance to move on from Iraq.
The Iraq war didn’t just consume Labour, it also alerted policymakers to other forces that would take advantage when foreign countries intervene. Many had not foreseen that Iran would see the invasion as such an opportunity.
Blair admitted in 2016: “We underestimated profoundly the forces that were at work in the region and would take advantage of change once you topple the regime. […] The lesson is simple. It is that when you remove a dictatorship, out come these forces of destabilisation, whether it is al-Qaida on the Sunni side or Iran on the Shia side.”
He added: “To be honest, my understanding of the Middle East is a lot deeper today than it was when I was prime minister, quite frankly.”
How it led us to Brexit
When David Cameron came to power he too carried the the weight of the Iraq mistakes, his party had supported the war in 2003, and by 2011, he had taken the UK into the US-led Libya intervention.
Hoping to have wisened after Iraq, Whitehall had elaborate plans for the day after but to little purpose. After the fall of the Libya leader Muammar Gaddafi, a divided country was revealed. One that led to the rise of many terrorist organisations.
In an article, Western media exposes itself in its coverage of the Libya floods, the author said:
That’s not to say life under Muammar Gaddafi was easy but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that human rights in Libya have worsened since Gaddafi was toppled. And economically, Libya is clearly worse off.
Today in Libya there are regular armed clashes as different power groups hoard revenues from energy exports. The standard of living has also plummeted.
The Iraq war also damaged the relationship between the intelligence services and politicians. Both blamed each other for the mess.
Ukraine has healed some of the scars, the US and UK intelligence warnings of a full-scale Russian invasion proved to be true, unlike the intelligence coming out of Germany and France.
The Chilcot Inquiry, the independent report into the handling of the 2003 Iraq war by the British government, failed to investigate one key area, how little the UK secured in return for its loyalty to the US, and what lessons to draw.
The US was calling the shots whilst the UK, according to Jack Straw, admits the UK was out of the loop.
The Guardian says:
“Much is made of the fact that the UK persuaded George W Bush to seek a second UN resolution, but that resolution was never secured. Equally, Blair claims he struck an implicit deal that Bush would take the Israeli-Palestinian peace process seriously, but this proved to be window dressing.
Many could argue these could lead to a reassessment of the UK’s belief in the special relationship with the US – or at least the belief of the relationship at the time.
But instead of leading the UK to reevaluate its relationship with the US, it instead drew the country away from the EU.
“The linkages can be traced from the protests over Iraq in 2003 to the 2016 referendum,” Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a former UK envoy to the UN said, since the war deepened a sense that a political elite did not listen.
It was a long road, a winding one, but one brand of conviction politics – liberal interventionism – eventually led to another – Brexit.
A Timeline of the Iraq War
Between 2001 and 2014, the UK was involved in the conflict in Afghanistan against the Taliban and fighters from al-Qaeda.
Between 2003 and 2011, the UK was involved in the conflict in Iraq to end the regime of Saddam Hussein. The war was part of a broader campaign against terrorist activity known as the Global War on Terror.
11 September 2001
The 9/11 attacks saw al-Qaeda use hijacked planes to kill 2,996 people in attacks in New York and elsewhere in the US.
12 September 2001
Tony Blair promises George W Bush that the UK will support the US, whatever the President decides to do.
14 September 2001
Congress authorises President Bush to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against terrorists.
7 October 2001
A US-led coalition begins its aerial attacks on Afghanistan. By the time combat operations come to a formal end on 28 December, the Taliban has been overthrown; but Osama bin Laden remains at large.
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, warns Blair that invading Iraq would be legally dubious
4 April 2002
An MI6 briefing appears to convince Blair that the WMD threat from Libya is far more serious than that from Iraq
6 April 2002
Tony Blair visits President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Some witnesses report that, following a private meeting between the two, Blair’s stance on Iraq “tightened”; but Blair himself has disputed claims that he gave an “undertaking in blood” to go to war in Iraq.
7 April 2002
Blair explicitly mentions the possibility of “regime change” in a speech.
General Tommy Franks, commander of US forces, tells Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge that he hopes the UK would be “alongside” the US in attacking Iraq.
Tony Blair asks defence officials to outline options for UK participation in military action against Iraq.
16 July 2002
Blair tells MP “no decisions… have been taken about military action.”
23 July 2002
Senior members of the government meet with senior defence and intelligence figures to discuss the build-up to war. A note of the meeting, known as the “Downing Street memo”, was later published, appearing to confirm that military action was now considered inevitable.
24 September 2002
The government publishes a dossier about the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. A foreword by Tony Blair states that Saddam Hussein’s “military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them”. It is subsequently alleged that this dossier was “sexed up” for political reasons.
2 October 2002
Congress authorises President Bush to use military force against Iraq.
8 November 2002
UN Security Council passes resolution 1441, insisting that weapons inspectors be allowed back into Iraq and calling on the regime to give up its WMD or face the consequences.
12 May 2003
Paul Bremer becomes Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
23 May 2003
Paul Bremer dissolves the Iraqi army, along with other key elements of the Baathist state.
2 June 2003
In a BBC interview, former International Development Secretary Clare Short accuses Tony Blair of having misled the Cabinet on the eve of war.
13 July 2003
Iraqi Governing Council established.
18 July 2003
David Kelly, an expert in biological warfare, is found dead after being named as the source of quotations used by the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan to suggest that the dossier of September 2002 had been “sexed up”. Lord Hutton is appointed to chair a judicial inquiry into his death.
3 September 2003
New Iraqi government established.
2 October 2003
Report of Iraq Survey Group reveals absence of evidence of WMD in Iraq.
13 December 2003
Saddam Hussein is captured near Tikrit, after nine months in hiding.
28 January 2004
The report of the Hutton Inquiry is published.
3 February 2004
Lord Butler is appointed to chair an official review of the intelligence on WMD on which the British government reportedly based its decision to take part in the invasion of Iraq.
2 March 2004
Bombings in Baghdad and Karbala kill nearly 200 people: the worst attacks since the fall of Saddam.
28 April 2004
A CBS report brings photographic evidence of the abuse of prisoners by US forces in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison to worldwide attention.
8 June 2004
UN transfers sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi Interim Government.
14 July 2004
The Butler Review is published. It concludes that some of the intelligence used to justify attacking Iraq was unreliable and that “more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear”.
More than 1,350 insurgents were killed when the US used overwhelming force to recapture the rebel-held city of Fallujah.
14 September 2005
Bombs in Baghdad kill 160 people and injure more than 500.
15 October 2005
Iraq’s new constitution is approved in a referendum.
15 December 2005
Iraq’s first post-Saddam parliamentary election.
30 December 2005
Saddam Hussein is executed.
20 May 2006
New Iraqi government succeeds transitional government.
10 January 2007
In the face of insurrection, the US announces a “surge” of 20,000 extra troops to increase security in Baghdad.
28 May 2009
The last British combat troops leave Iraq.
15 June 2009
Gordon Brown, Tony Blair’s successor as Prime Minister, announces that an inquiry will be set up, under Sir John Chilcot, to “learn the lessons” of the conflict.
24 November 2009
The Chilcot inquiry holds its first public hearing.
7 March 2010
Inconclusive parliamentary elections result in the formation of a government in which Nouri al-Maliki continues as Prime Minister.
In Syria, protests begin against the Assad regime; the civil war to follow will destabilise the entire region, including Iraq.
2 February 2011
The Chilcot inquiry holds its final public hearing.
12 May 2011
Sir John Chilcot says that his report will be published, at the earliest, in the autumn of 2011.
16 November 2011
The Chilcot inquiry announces that it cannot publish report before summer 2012 if it is to “do justice” to the complexities involved.
18 December 2011
The last US troops leave Iraq, after nearly nine years of combat that cost 4,488 US lives and left 32,226 soldiers injured.
16 July 2012
Sir John Chilcot says that he cannot report before mid-2013.
6 November 2013
The Chilcot inquiry announces that it cannot proceed with its work due to an impasse over the release of key documents (including exchanges between Blair and Bush).
29 May 2014
The Chilcot inquiry says that it will publish the “gist” of exchanges between Blair and Bush, but that full transcripts will remain secret.
10 June 2014
The extremist group known as Isis captures Mosul, along with large swathes of northern and western Iraq.
29 June 2014
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of Isis, declares a new “caliphate” over 250,000sq km of Iraq and Syria.
16 October 2014
William Hague and David Cameron say they hope the report will be published before the 2015 general election.
21 January 2015
Sir John Chilcot confirms that his report will not be published before the general election in May 2015.
17 June 2015
David Cameron says he is “losing patience” with how long the Iraq inquiry is taking.
9 September 2015
Sir John Chilcot confirms that the Maxwellisation process on the inquiry is complete.
24 October 2015
Tony Blair apologises for mistakes in the run-up to the Iraq War and admits that it played a role in the rise of ISIS.