The 2003 invasion of Iraq is not to blame for the violent insurgency now gripping the country, former UK prime minister Tony Blair has said. He told the BBC there would still be a “major problem” in Iraq even without the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
He insisted the current crisis was an issue that “affects us all” and urged more western intervention in the area. Critics have rejected the comments as “bizarre” with one accusing Mr Blair of “washing his hands of responsibility”.
“Even if you’d left Saddam in place in 2003, then when 2011 happened – and you had the Arab revolutions going through Tunisia and Libya and Yemen and Bahrain and Egypt and Syria – you would have still had a major problem in Iraq,” he said.
“Indeed, you can see what happens when you leave the dictator in place, as has happened with Assad now. The problems don’t go away.”
He also called for some form of intervention in neighbouring Syria, warning that inaction would result in a threat to UK soil.
Mr Blair was prime minister when UK and US forces controversially invaded Iraq in 2003 – on the basis that it had weapons of mass destruction – with the last of Britain’s troops withdrawing in 2011.
Now, uprisings by the al-Qaeda breakaway group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have led to a surge of violence and sectarian killings in recent days.
The Sunni insurgents have advanced north of Baghdad. And as Iraqi government forces attempt to hold them back, a US aircraft carrier has been deployed to the Gulf in response to the escalating violence.
Mr Blair said the idea that Iraq would be stable if the UK and US had not intervened “just isn’t true” and that the current crisis involved the wider region as a whole.
In an essay on his website, he said the violence in Iraq was the “predictable and malign effect” of inaction in Syria.
But Michael Stephens, from the Royal United Services Institute, insisted the Iraq War had a part to play in the recent upsurge in violence.
“I think Mr Blair is washing his hands of responsibility,” he said. “But at the same time, I do agree with him that we can’t just ignore this.
“We do have some kind of role to play in terms of trying to make sure that both Iraq and Syria do not fragment and just move on into sort of unending violence.”