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6 July 2016updated 28 Jul 2021 9:53am

Watch: Tony Blair’s emotional defence of invading Iraq at Chilcot press conference

"I ask people to put themselves in my shoes as Prime Minister..."

By Anoosh Chakelian

Tony Blair seemed close to tears at a press conference he gave following the damning report of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war.

Although he repeatedly expressed his regret in an emotional speech, he didn’t say anything particularly new. He defended his decision to invade, in spite of Chilcot singling out a number of his actions as responsible for the foreign policy disaster. “What I can’t do and will not do is say we took the wrong decision,” he insisted.

But viewers noted how uncomfortable he looked throughout the speech, for a politician renowned for his polish and conviction.

Here are the most significant parts of his speech and Q&A session:

“The decision to go war in Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power in a coalition of over 40 countries led by the USA was the hardest, most momentous, most agonising I took in my ten years as Prime Minister. For that decision today I accept full responsibility. Without exception and without excuse. I recognise the division felt by many in our country over the war and in particular I feel deeply and sincerely in a way that no words can properly convey the grief and suffering of those who lost ones they loved in Iraq, whether members of our armed forces, the armed forces of other nations or Iraqis. The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong – the aftermath turned out to be more hostile protracted and bloody than ever we imagined. The coalition planned for one set of ground facts and encountered another – and a nation we wanted to set free and secure from the evil of Saddam became instead victim to sectarian terrorism.

“For all of this I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe.

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“Only two things I cannot say – it’s claimed by some that by removing Saddam we caused the terror today in the Middle East and it would have been better to have left him. I profoundly disagree. Saddam was himself a wellspring of terror, a continuing threat to peace and his own people. If he’d been left in power in 2003 I believe he’d once again have threatened world peace and when the Arab revolutions of 2011 began he would have clung to power with the same deadly consequences we see in the carnage in Syria today.

 “There is at least in Iraq, for all its challenges, we have a government that is elected, recognised as internationally legitimate and is fighting terrorism with the support of the international community . . .

“Secondly, I will never agree that those who died or were injured made their sacrifice in vein – they fought in the defining security struggle of the 21st century, against the terrorism and violence which the world over destroys lives and divides communities . . . I know some of the families cannot and do not accept this is so. I know there are those who can never forget or forgive me for having taken this decision and who think I took it dishonestly.

“As the report makes clear, there were no lies, Parliament and cabinet were not misled, there was no secret commitment to war, intelligence was no falsified and the decision was made in good faith.

“However, I accept that the report make serious criticism of the way decisions were taken and again I accept full responsibility for these points of criticism even where I do not fully agree with them, I do not think it fair or accurate to criticise the armed forces, in the intelligence services or the intelligence services – it was my decision they were acting on . . .

“I ask people to put themselves in my shoes as Prime Minister – back then barely a year from 9/11, in late 2002 and early 2003 you’re seeing the intelligence mount up on WMD, you’re doing so in the changed context of mass casualties . . . you have at least to consider the possibility of a 9/11 where in Britain and your primary responsibility is to protect your country. These were my considerations at the time . . .

“There was no rush to war – the inquiry rightly dismisses the conspiracy theory that I pledged Britain unequivocally to action at Crawford in April 2002, I could not and did not as they explicitly conclude. I was absolutely clear, publicly and privately that I would be with the USA in dealing with this issue . . . I set out the conditions necessary, especially that we should go down the UN route and avoid precipitate action, as again the report finds . . .

“As of 17 March there was no middle way, no further time for deliberation . . . a decision had to be taken and it was mine to take as PM – I took it, I accept full responsibility for it, I stand by it. I only ask with humility that the British people accept that I took this decision because I believed it was the right to thing to do based on the information I had and the threats I perceived and that my duty as Prime Minister in 2003 was to do what I thought was right . . . it’s the profound obligation of the person leading the government of our country to take responsibility and to decide, not to hide behind politics, expediency or even emotion but to recognise it is a privilege above all others to lead this nation, but the accompaniment of that privilege when the interests of our nation area so supremely at stake is to lead and not shy away . . . to discharge that responsibility and not to duck it. Neither history not the raucous conduct of modern politics, with all its love of conspiracy theories and willingness and addiction to believe the worst of everyone…I did it because I thought it was right and because I thought the cost of inaction . . . would be greater for us and for the world in the longer term . . .

“I accept I could have and should have accepted the option of a full options paper to Cabinet.

“I can look not just the families of this country but the nation in the eye and say: I did not mislead this country; I made the decision in good faith on the information I had at that time; and I believe it is better that we took that decision. I believe that I made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it . . . 

“If I was back in the same place, with the same information, I’d take the same decision . . .

“The decisions I’ve made I have carried with me for 13 days and will do so for the rest of my days. There is not a day in my life I do not rethink and relive what has happened . . .

“I can look not just the families but the nation in the eye and say I did not mislead this country. I made the decision on good faith based on the information I had at the time . . .

“What I cannot do and will not do is say we took the wrong decision. I believe I took the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it . . . 

“Please stop saying I was lying or I had some dishonest or underhand motive. I have the motives I explained . . .

“The time you should trust politicians most, is when they do what is hardest. I was doing something that was really hard . . .

“Iraq under Saddam had no chance. Iraq today has a chance . . .

“You should let the Iraqis speak for themselves. Some will say no [they are not better off] but others  have a different perspective.”