Military families heckle Blair's Iraq regrets for troops' deaths as 'too late'

AN emotional Tony Blair was heckled and barracked by the parents of soldiers killed in Iraq as he expressed regret for the huge loss of life during the bloody conflict.

Relatives of the UK's fallen soldiers shouted "it's too late" as the former Prime Minister told the official inquiry into the Iraq War that he regretted "deeply and profoundly" the deaths of UK troops and Iraqi civilians.

And he provoked fury from the audience in his second appearance before the Chilcott Inquiry as he again launched into an impassioned plea for Western nations to now turn their attentions to Iran with "the requisite determination – and if necessary force". As Mr Blair spoke of his admiration for the British military, one weeping relative shouted: "Stop trying to kill them, then."

Mr Blair had previously sparked anger among the families of the 179 UK personnel killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 when he insisted he had "no regrets" about the war at his first appearance before the inquiry last year.

Seeking to clarify those remarks yesterday, his voice cracking with emotion, Mr Blair said: "At the conclusion of the last hearing, you asked me whether I had any regrets.

"I took that as a question about the decision to go to war, and I answered that I took responsibility.

"That was taken as my meaning that I had no regrets about the loss of life – and that was never my meaning or my intention.

"I wanted to make it clear that, of course, I regret deeply and profoundly the loss of life, whether from our own armed forces, those of other nations, the civilians who helped people in Iraq, or the Iraqis themselves."

The hearing shed little new light on the events surrounding the invasion, with Mr Blair again mounting an assured and fluent defence of his actions.

The inquiry did release a newly-declassified document from March 2002, however – a year before the invasion – in which Mr Blair said the UK should be "gung ho" about the prospect of getting rid of the Iraqi dictator.

In his evidence, Mr Blair said he had always made clear to US President George Bush that he would be "up for" regime change in Iraq if it was the only way of dealing with Saddam Hussein.

He said regime change in Baghdad had always been "on the agenda" for Washington after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 – and acknowledged that it came up when he spoke to Mr Bush by telephone on December 3 that year.

Mr Blair told the inquiry: "Regime change was their policy, so regime change was part of the discussion. If it became the only way of dealing with this issue, we were going to be up for that."

The inquiry released a note from Mr Blair to his chief of staff Jonathan Powell, shortly before his visit to Mr Bush at the President's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, in which he argued that Labour should be "gung-ho" about dealing with Saddam.

He said that, from "a centre-left perspective", the case for action against the Iraqi dictator should be "obvious".

"Saddam's regime is a brutal, oppressive military dictatorship. He kills his opponents, has wrecked his country's economy and is a source of instability and danger in the region," he wrote.

"I can understand a right-wing Tory being opposed to it on grounds it hasn't any direct bearing on our national interest. But in fact a political philosophy that does care about other nations – eg Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone – and is prepared to change regimes on the merits, should be gung-ho on Saddam."

The inquiry also heard that Mr Blair disregarded his top legal adviser's warning that attacking Iraq would be illegal without further United Nations backing because the guidance was "provisional".

The former Prime Minister "held to the position" that another UN Security Council resolution explicitly supporting military action was unnecessary despite being told the opposite by attorney general Lord Goldsmith.

Mr Blair said he believed Lord Goldsmith would come round to his position once he knew the history of the negotiations behind UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which paved the way for weapons inspectors to return to Iraq.