Tony Blair: World is better with Saddam out of power

Britain's former prime minister Tony Blair (Ben Stansall/Pool Photo via AP)

LONDON (AP) — The Latest on Britain’s inquiry into its role in the Iraq war (all times local):

2:25 p.m.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says the world is a better place because of the removal of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Facing harsh criticism from a damning report released Wednesday by the Iraq War Inquiry, Blair says going to war had been the most “agonizing decision” he has ever made.

Blair said he takes full responsibility for the decision and that the British military and civil service are not to blame for the problems that developed after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The former leader said Britain had prepared for one set of facts on the ground after the invasion but found another as security in Iraq degenerated into sectarian violence.

He conceded that intelligence assessments about Iraq had been incorrect.

Overthrowing Saddam’s regime unleashed instability in Iraq that persists to this day and has left more than 100,000 Iraqis dead, tens of thousands wounded and millions displaced.

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2:05 p.m.

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says the British government was blindsided by the actions of some U.S. officials in handling the aftermath of the war in Iraq.

In his response to the Iraq war inquiry report on Wednesday, Straw acknowledges there were serious failures planning and implementation in post-conflict Iraq. But he says the actions of some U.S. officials, in particular the decision by Paul Bremer of the Coalition Provisional Authority to disband the Iraqi Army, were exceptionally problematic.

Straw says “This decision, whose consequences Iraq is still living with, not only blindsided the British government; it blindsided key members of the U.S. administration, including then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the then Secretary of State Colin Powell

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1:10 p.m.

Iraqis say they’re not satisfied that the head of Britain’s Iraq War inquiry has not recommended prosecuting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes.

Many Iraqis are still mourning the loss of more than 175 people killed in a massive weekend bombing in Baghdad claimed by the Islamic State group.

Ali al-Saraji, a Baghdad resident, says Blair, “destroyed our country,” and should be prosecuted as a war criminal for his involvement in bringing about the Iraq war. The instability that the 2003 U.S.-led invasion unleashed in Iraq persists to this day and has left more than 100,000 Iraqis dead, tens of thousands wounded and millions displaced.

Al-Saraji says “since 2003 until now, our country has been a scene of destruction, killing, massacres, explosions and sectarianism.”

The rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq following the 2003 invasion later morphed into the militants who call themselves the Islamic State group.

Juma al-Quraishi, an Iraqi journalist, says “everyone who took part in the war against Iraq should be condemned, either Britain or others.”

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1 p.m.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron says lessons must be learned following the publication of the long-awaited Chilcot report into the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Cameron offered a summary of the report to the Parliament on Wednesday, arguing that some of the mistakes outlined in the report had already been addressed in the years since the invasion and occupation.

The Conservative leader said, for example, there are now separate mechanisms for assessing intelligence information and its use.

Cameron says “we cannot turn the clock back, but we can ensure that lessons are learned and acted on.”

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12:35 p.m.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he will take full responsibility for any mistakes amid the publication of the Chilcot report on British involvement in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Blair nonetheless underscored that the report released Wednesday supported positions that he has long held, including that he made no secret commitment to go to war at a meeting with former U.S. President George Bush in April 2002 in Texas.

Blair highlights there was no “falsification of intelligence,” though the inquiry found the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons “were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”

Blair repeated his contention that it was “better to remove Saddam Hussein” than allow the Iraqi leader to stay in power. He says “I do not believe this (Saddam’s removal) is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world.”

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12:10 p.m.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he hopes the Chilcot report looking into British involvement in the Iraq War lays to rest allegations that he used lies or deceit as a pretense to invade Iraq.

Blair issued a statement Wednesday right after the report was released, saying that he tried to do the right thing by joining the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The country was wracked by violence and chaos for years after that.

Blair says “whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein, I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country.”

Blair says while the Chilcot inquiry does not make a finding on the legal basis for British military action in Iraq, it found that the attorney general concluded there was a lawful basis by March 13, 2003.

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12:05 p.m.

The families of U.K. troops slain in the Iraq conflict say Britain should use the Chilcot report to make sure the country never makes such grave mistakes again.

In a statement Wednesday, a group of families who had access to the report’s executive summary say that “never again must so many mistakes be allowed to sacrifice British lives and lead to the destruction of a country for no positive end.”

The sister of one slain serviceman, Sarah O’Connor, says the report confirms there is one “terrorist” that the world needs to know about “and that is (ex-Prime Minister) Tony Blair.”

The military families have long pushed for the inquiry and for those responsible for British involvement in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to be held to account.

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11:55 a.m.

The head of Britain’s Iraq War inquiry says former Prime Minister Tony Blair overestimated his ability to influence decisions made by the Americans.

Retired civil servant John Chilcot says Blair put too much faith in being able to shape U.S. policy in the months before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government.

Blair had a good relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush and they worked together closely during the run-up to the military intervention in Iraq.

The Chilcot inquiry, which took seven years to produce, is publishing detailed notes from Blair to Bush describing strategic plans for the invasion.

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11:40 a.m.

The head of Britain’s Iraq War inquiry says Britain’s 2003-2009 deployment to Iraq ended “a long way from success.”

Retired civil servant John Chilcot, in a report that took seven years to produce, says Britain had to make a “humiliating” deal with militias in Iraq that had been targeting British forces as a best possible way to lessen the violence that erupted in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

He said Wednesday that the simultaneous war effort in Afghanistan had a material effect on British forces in Iraq, citing as an example a shortage of helicopters and surveillance equipment.

Chilcot said decisions made were not fully implemented and that the Ministry of Defense had been slow to respond to the threat posed by improvised explosive devices in Iraq.

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11:30 a.m.

The head of Britain’s Iraq War inquiry says the risks of intervening in Iraq should have been known in advance.

Retired civil servant John Chilcot says British officials should have known the risks of internal strife in Iraq, the danger of increased al-Qaida activity and the possibility of general instability inside the country.

Chilcot said the known risks should have been addressed further by British political and military elites and that the failures continued to have an effect after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He said hindsight was not needed and that careful planning would have taken these factors into account.

He also noted that Britain’s deployment in Iraq ended “a long way from success.”

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11:25 a.m.

The head of Britain’s Iraq War inquiry has said his inquiry will not make a finding on whether the invasion of Iraq was legally justified.

Retired civil servant John Chilcot says there were serious shortcomings in the planning and execution of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and poor preparation for the aftermath, which saw Saddam Hussein’s government overthrown and the country descend into chaos.

Chilcot said, however, that “the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for U.K. military action were far from satisfactory.”

His report is broadly damning of British political, military and intelligence planning. He did not find that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government had knowingly misled the public and Parliament about the situation in Iraq.

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11:10 a.m.

The head of Britain’s Iraq War inquiry has released a damning verdict on a conflict he says was mounted on flawed intelligence, executed with “wholly inadequate” planning.

Retired civil servant John Chilcot says “the U.K. chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”

He says then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government presented an assessment of the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s weapons with “certainty that was not justified,” and military planning for the war and its aftermath were not up to the task.

Chilcot oversaw an inquiry that has taken seven years to complete, heard from 150 witnesses and analyzed 150,000 documents.

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8 a.m.

Anti-war activists and relatives of some dead British troops hope the Chilcot report will find the Iraq war illegal, opening the way for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes.

Sarah O’Connor, whose brother, Sgt. Bob O’Connor, died in a plane crash in Iraq in 2005, says “that man has been the puppet master, and it’s about time that we came along and we cut his strings.”

John Chilcot, a retired civil servant, has stressed that his inquiry is not a court of law, and the International Criminal Court has said that the “decision by the U.K. to go to war in Iraq falls outside the court’s jurisdiction.”

Chilcot said he wanted the report to be “a really reliable account of all that happened that really matters” over Iraq, with lessons for the future.

Peter Brierley, whose son Lance Cpl. Shaun Brierley was killed in 2003, said he hoped the report “comes somewhere close to what I expect, which is to say that Tony Blair did go to war illegally.”

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6:30 a.m.

The official inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq War is releasing its findings Wednesday, more than seven years after hearings began and 13 years on from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Retired civil servant John Chilcot is due to publish his 2.6-million-word report on a divisive conflict that — by the time British combat forces left in 2009 — had killed 179 British troops, almost 4,500 American personnel and more than 100,000 Iraqis.

Iraq descended into sectarian strife after the occupiers dismantled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s government and military apparatus, unleashing chaos that helped give rise to the Islamic State group.

The war has overshadowed the legacy of Britain’s then-leader, Prime Minister Tony Blair. His government has been accused of exaggerating intelligence about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction in order to build support for invasion.

Blair — who declined to comment on the report before publication — has always said his government did not invent or distort intelligence.

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