LORD BLUNKETT has spoken out over Tony Blair’s apology for aspects of the Iraq War, sparking claims of attempted “spin” ahead of the Chilcot Inquiry findings.
The former Prime Minister used a US television interview to express regret over the failure to plan properly for the aftermath of the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein and the false intelligence used to justify it.
But Lord Blunkett, a former Sheffield MP who was Home Secretary at the time, said he had sought assurances in vain from Mr Blair over the planning for the aftermath.
“Tony was not able to say what was going to happen when combat operations were over. He just decided to trust Cheney and Rumsfeld,” he told the Mail on Sunday, referring to the then US vice president and defence secretary.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that they had decided to embark on the complete de-Ba’athification of Saddam’s Iraq by dismantling the entire government infrastructure.
“This led to the disintegration of any form of functioning government, creating a complete power vacuum. Terrorists infiltrated Iraq and stirred discontent.
‘I am not seeking to scapegoat Tony Blair; we were all collectively to blame for deluding ourselves into believing that we had much greater sway over Washington,” he said.
If Sir John Chilcot did not quickly release an interim copy of his findings, he woud “risk his entire exercise being entirely discredited”, he added.
Mr Blair, speaking on CNN, said: “I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong.
“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.”
Asked by host Fareed Zakaria if the Iraq War was “the principal cause” of the rise of Islamic State, he was reported to have conceded: “I think there are elements of truth in that.”
He added: “Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused the ex-PM of starting to prepare the ground for expected criticisms when the long-delayed report of the Chilcot Inquiry is finally published.
No date has yet been given for the release of the final conclusions – more than six years after the inquiry was set up by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown with an assurance it would take a year.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell – due shortly to take up a seat in the House of Lords – said: “No matter what Tony Blair says or any criticisms there will be of him in the Chilcot Inquiry report, people have long since made up their minds.
“His partial acknowledgement that the military action against Saddam Hussein has made some contribution to instability in the Middle East will do nothing to change public opinion that his was a major error of judgment.
“The inevitable truth is that Iraq is his legacy and it will be his epitaph.”
THE FINDINGS of the official inquiry into the Iraq War are still awaited more than six years after it was set up.
Sir John Chilcot has come under fire for the drawn-out process of producing his report, which the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he expected to take “at least a year” when he commissioned it in June 2009.
The report into the 2003 conflict has been delayed by a process known as “Maxwellisation”, under which those who may face criticism – believed to include former Prime Minister Tony Blair – are given the opportunity to respond before publication.
Sir John has been threatened with legal action from families of Iraq War casualties over his failure to set a timetable. He is now said to be setting out plans for publication in the next two weeks. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he shared the families’ “immense frustration” at the delays.