LONDON — Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologized for “mistakes” made in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Blair also said there are “elements of truth” in claims that the invasion was the main cause of the rise of the Islamic State group, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that will be broadcast Sunday.
Britain and the United States under the George W. Bush administration attacked Iraq following a belief, based on intelligence, that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction. No major weapons of mass destruction were found.
Speaking to CNN, Blair said: “I can say that I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong because, even though he (Saddam) had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the program in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought.”
By the time the war officially ended on Dec. 15, 2011, more than 4,000 U.S. troops and 179 British servicemembers had died and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, according to the website Iraq Body Count.
Blair also apologized “for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
But he did not apologize for the Iraq War itself, adding: “I find it hard to apologize for removing Saddam. I think, even from today in 2015, it is better that he’s not there than that he is there.”
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which controls vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, was formed in April 2013 after growing out of al-Qaeda in Iraq and took control of the Syrian city of Raqqa the following month. The militants seized the city of Fallujah in western Iraq in January 2014 and the key Sunni city of Ramadi in May 2015.
Speaking of ISIL, Blair told CNN: “Of course, you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015. But it’s important also to realize, one, that the Arab Spring which began in 2011 would also have had its impact on Iraq today, and two, ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.”
More than 3,000 U.S. troops are currently in Iraq, training and advising government forces.