Tony Blair: The reason I took on secular Saddam was to fight radical Islam

The former prime minister's increasingly lame defence of Iraq

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Looking at the front pages of the Guardian and the Times today, I can't help but think that two interrelated issues -- Iraq and Tony Blair -- will never depart from the British political scene. They simply won't go away.

The latest claim from Teflon Tony on the subject of the Iraq war, in an interview with the BBC's Fern Britton, is that he would have invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein even if he had not had any evidence of WMDs (which, of course, we now know he didn't!). Blair would have joined Bush on his "regime change" adventure, regardless. (On a side note: Fern bloody Britton?!? The former PM has always known how to avoid tough questioning, from the chamber of the Commons to the studios of British television. He will always be, in my mind, the Des O'Connor/GMTV prime minister.)

From the Times:

Asked by Britton if he would still have gone on had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction, he said: "I would still have thought it right to remove him."

Blair's neoconservatism in foreign affairs has often been masked by his supporters in the press as "humanitarian interventionism" or "muscular liberalism". I hope these latest revelations will put an end to all that nonsense from the apologists.

Here, in my view, is Neocon Blair's most outrageous, most disingenuous and little-reported claim, from his interview with Britton:

He also put the decision to go to war in Iraq in the context of a wider battle over Islam. He said: "I happen to think that there is a major struggle going on all over the world, really, which is about Islam and what is happening within Islam." He said that this struggle had a "long way to go".

Is he having a laugh? The decision to depose Saddam Hussein, the Ba'athist ruler of secular Iraq, was part of a wider global war against radical Islam? It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. The harsh truth is, as virtually every intelligence agency and terrorism expert on earth has confirmed, that the Iraq war exacerbated the threat from Islamist extremism; it acted as a recruiting sergeant for every Muslim terrorist group in existence. Meanwhile, every single inquiry into the Iraq war, on both sides of the Atlantic, has concluded that Saddam had no links to Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaeda or the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Blair, with his teaching post at Yale Universiy and his "Faith Foundation", now seems to think he is a scholar of Islam. I happened to see him speak on the subject in front of a group of young British Muslims at the al-Khoei Foundation in London in 2008. I listened to his self-serving, simplistic, naive, back-of-the-cereal-box analysis of the various splits, divisions and debates within Islam. Karen Armstrong, John Esposito or even Bernard Lewis he ain't!

The various justifications for the illegal invasion continue to crumble. The Chilcot inquiry, for example, has heard evidence from Sir William Ehrman, a senior Foreign Office official, that the government had intelligence days before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Saddam Hussein had dissassembled any chemical weapons in his possession.

Blair looks increasingly desperate and pathetic. The Independent on Sunday has reported that the former prime minister is furious that his reputation is being "shredded" by senior civil servants taking revenge on him. And so this latest lame argument is classic Teflon Tony: change the subject, move the goalposts, distract the critics.

But even he can't get away with it this time round, can he? The misadventure in Iraq had nothing to do with Islam or Islamism, and for the former premier to pretend, suggest or imply otherwise now is a reminder of why Blair will always be Bliar in the eyes of millions of Britons.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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