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article imageWar apology from Britain’s Blair seen as ‘disgrace’ by families

By Lynn Herrmann     Jan 22, 2011 in Politics
London - Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair was heckled on Friday as he delivered testimony during a British inquiry into the highly unpopular and increasingly apparently ill-conceived occupation of Iraq.
It was Blair’s second appearance before a five-member panel that has been dissecting Britain’s role in the deadly war. He was asked back to clarify evidence previously presented to the panel a year ago, according to Huffington Post.
In the testimony, Blair confirmed he had spoken with then-US president George W. Bush, reassuring the man who now is considered by many as the country’s worst president in its history that Britain would be by America’s side. “You can count on us,” Blair told Bush, months before Britain’s Parliament approved its participation in the occupation, Huffington Post reported.
The panel also published a 2002 memo, previously unseen, in which Blair told his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, that Britain “should be gung-ho on Saddam,” referencing a regime change regarding Iraq’s then-leader Saddam Hussein.
In his earlier comments before the panel, Blair said he had no regrets for joining the US occupation of Iraq and many interpreted that comment as seeing him insensitive toward lost lives. Seeking to rectify that blunder, Blair on Friday said: “I want 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.”
That comment, as well, was seen as a shallow attempt at consolation and did little to assuage the emotions of those in the audience who lost family members due to his decision. Huffington Post revealed some in the audience became vocal, shouting “Too late, too late.” Others were just as demonstrative.
As Blair was completing four hours of testimony, Rose Gentle, who in 2006 lost her 19 year-old son to the occupation, shouted: “Your lies killed my son, I hope you can live with yourself.” In silent protest, two women turned their backs on the former Prime Minister, then walked out.
Reg Keys, who lost a son to the war in 2003, shouted at Blair as he was leaving: “You’re a disgrace to your office and our country,” Huffington Post noted.
The just-published 2002 memo from Blair to his chief of staff shows just how much dissent there was back then over US attempts at persuading the world of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program, the key justification for America’s desire to have a war with the country. Blair noted that Iraq’s weapons program at that time did not “seem obviously worse than 3 years ago,” referencing the situation before Bush was appointed president.
“The persuasion job on this seems very tough. My own side are worried. Public opinion is fragile. International opinion – as I found at the EU – is pretty skeptical,” Blair wrote in the memo.
Noting the younger Bush’s desire to right a wrong, Blair continued in the memo: “People believe we are only doing it to support the U.S., and they are only doing it to settle an old score.”
In his attempt at swaying public opinion, Blair also wrote that “we have to reorder our story and message.”
The British inquiry is expected to publish its recommendations by the end of the year.
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