“Please stop saying I was lying.”
That’s the message of former British prime minister Tony Blair, following the release of a long-awaited inquiry report that strongly criticized his government for joining the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The report by an independent probe panel led by retired government official John Chilcot found that Blair relied on flawed intelligence and that the way the war was legally authorized was unsatisfactory.
It also revealed he had pledged to support the United States “whatever”, eight months before the invasion.
But Blair said the report vindicated his “hardest, most momentous and agonizing decision”, Reuters reports.
The former British leader’s legacy as a three-times election winner for the center-left Labour Party has been overshadowed by years of accusations that he had lied to exaggerate the intelligence case for war.
On Wednesday Blair faced hostile questioning from national and international media, who said his assurances to former US president George Bush had amounted to a “blank cheque for war” and that he had abandoned diplomatic channels too easily.
In response, during a 109-minute news conference, Blair was at times contrite and emotional, and at others clearly angry at the way his actions had been portrayed.
“If you disagree with me fine, but please stop saying I was lying or I had some sort of dishonest or underhand motive,” he told reporters, hours after the release of the scathing report.
“‘You lied about the intelligence’ – that’s what people say the whole time,” Blair said.
“Actually if people are being fair and read the whole report, that allegation should be put to rest, because it’s not true and it never was true.”
In a statement which was twice as long as that delivered by Chilcot, Blair sought to address the full spectrum of criticism leveled at him, saying he accepted total responsibility “without exception or excuse”.
According to BBC News, Blair accepted intelligence had been wrong and post-war planning had been poor.
But he insisted that he did what he thought was the “right thing” at the time and he still believed Iraq was “better off” without Saddam Hussein, the British broadcaster said.
He apologized to the families of those killed in the war, and said he believed they will never “forget or forgive” him.
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