Update: For early reactions to Blair at the Iraq inquiry, read this post from the ftdotcomment blog.
5.16pm: That’s it from me and Alex. I think Blair had the better of this: a refined defence and one, says former Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell, that was aimed at his legacy.
Some of those who heard him will be far from happy, particularly at his decision not to voice regret. Sky reporting Blair was jeered as he left the inquiry: “You are a liar,” shouted one person. “A murderer,” shouted another. Those who wanted to hear regret, says the BBC’s Nick Robinson, will be disappointed.
5.14pm: Well, there you have it. He’s sorry – for being divisive – but firmly believes the war was right. Sure, some things could have been done better (the intel and the planning), but with or without WMD, toppling Saddam was the right thing to do. We’d all be worse off if he was still there, not least because of the growing threat from Iran.
5.10pm: Chilcot wants some broad lessons from Blair – and any regrets about the war?
Blair says on “nation building” have to look “very carefully” at the type of forces you need.
He continues: “Also got to look at the nature of the threat – from al-Qaeda on the one hand and Iran on the other, and the impact that could have not just on Iraq but in the Middle East and beyond.”
“I had to take this decision as prime minister,” says Blair. “And it was a huge responsibility then and not a single day goes past when I reflect and think on that responsibility.”
“But I genuinely believe had we left Saddam in power, even with what we know now, we would have had to deal with that threat possibly when circumstances were worse… I take a very hard, tough line on Iran today. In the end it was divisive and I’m sorry about that. I tried my level best to bring people back together again.”
He adds: “I believe we are better off with Saddam and his sons out of power” and that the armed forces will be able to “look back with immense sense of pride and achievement.”
Any regrets – again?
“Responsibility but not regret for removing Saddam Hussein,” he says, at which he is jeered by someone in the gallery. “Be quiet,” snaps Chilcot at the heckler.
Saddam, says Blair,”was a monster, not just a threat to the region, but the world” It was better to remove him from office and he believes the world is safer as a result.
5.03pm: Blair believes things are getting better in Iraq. He cites electricity, higher income per head and the money being spent on infrastructure. “Yes it was a very very difficult fight indeed. It was always going to be difficult when these external factors came into play – al Q and Iran. If you look at the latest information from the Brookings Institution, they’re actually upbeat… If you look at whether they believe security and services are getting better, the majority believe they are.”
5.00pm: Anything Blair would have done differently? Maybe, he says, put a specific cabinet minister in charge of this – i.e. the reconstruction. But “in terms of what we knew at that time, we had machinery of government that was perfectly adequate.” In other words, with hindsight, we screwed up the planning. But we did the best we could given what we knew.
4.56pm: Alex: One thing to remember as we near the end of this is that this won’t necessarily be the end. The inquiry can recall any witness after the election and it is highly likely that Blair will be back. Will there be anything left to disclose in his book?
4.52pm: They’re close to winding up. James Blitz, former FT political editor turned diplomatic editor, is here. Says Blair has pretty much got away with it today. Sir Lawrence Freedman was by far the best questioner, pinning Blair down on WMD and lack of post-war planning. The former PM made a couple of minor criticisms of Bush, but no more than that. Stuck to the big – and woolly – political argument.
One other thing, says James. If Blair thinks Iran is such a major threat today, why didn’t someone ask the question: “Hasn’t the Iraq adventure hugely bolstered Iran’s position?”
4.50pm: Prashar comes back to Goldsmith. She says he told inquiry his legal opinion “wasn’t always welcome”. Blair replies that the former attorney was able to say he disagreed. Cabinet, he says, did not want to be part of legal debate. It wanted to know whether or not the attorney felt invasion was legal.
4.48pm: Alex: What will Blair be doing tomorrow? Another tough cross-examination in front of the Rio 2016 olympic team. This man is indefatigable.
4.46pm: Gordo will get his moment in the limelight. And I expect he can’t wait. Bet he’s looking forward to the election too.
4.45pm: Alex: We’ve had almost six hours of testimony. No mention of Gordon Brown. He must be thrilled.
4.44pm: Blair says he doesn’t think there was any member of cabinet who felt they weren’t inolved or who couldn’t challenge. He cites the late Robin Cook, who resigned on the eve of war. “I was in almost constant interaction in 2002 and 2003 with members of the cabinet…” That, of course, is very different to formal and vibrant cabinet discussion on the issue. Until we see minutes of those cabinet meetings, we will not know.
4.40pm: Here we go Alex. Blair now challenged on whether cabinet given sufficient informaiton and analysis to enable it to take full responsiblity.
4.37pm: There were a couple of questions about cabinet discussion before the war in the morning session, but it quickly became clear that there was precious little real “cabinet discussion”. Lord Butler had a good deal to say about Blair’s “sofa” style of government in his report. Pity all of that was held in private. He heard some good stuff.
4.36pm: Alex: Extraordinary. We’re now on to Abu Graib, a dreadful scandal in a US run prison. Nothing to do with Blair. So why are they asking him what he thought? There haven’t been any questions about cabinet discussions before the war or any direct questions about body armour and kit for troops – the issue that most concerns the bereaved families. Not the Inquiry’s finest moment.
4.32pm: A testy Blair says coalition forces were not the ones doing the killing, the ones killing were the terrorists.
“What we planned for was what we thought was going to happen. But… however much you plan, and whatever forces you have, if you have these elements [he includes Iran again]…. the fact that these people are prepared to do these terrible things to frustrate the Iraqi people means we should not back away from confronting them.”
Nobody in Iraq qould want to go back to the days when they had no freedom and no hope, he says.
4.29pm: Do you get the feeling Freedman isn’t a fan? He says the situation is probably better than it was in 2007, but declines to agree with Blair’s insistence that Iraq is in a better state than it was in 2003.
4.26pm: Alex: The megaphones are out. For the first time we can hear protesters outside. We’re hearing reports that they’re planning to stop Blair from leaving. Somehow I suspect Blair’s small army of bodyguards would have thought of this. But if he is blocked, perhaps a chance for an extra-questioning session? A few more hours of Blair? Who could say no?
4.25pm: Blair says he was “shocked and angry” at Abu-Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse by US soldiers.
4.23pm: More on the aftermath. We are deep into it now. “What started to happen in 2004 and 2005, then full on into 2006, is you had a metamorphosis into a different kind of conflict… you needed four things to defeat this. Two of them take time. One is you need a political buy-in, second is to build up Iraqi capability, third you need the right troop configuration, fourth is you need to be prepared to stick at it.”
4.17pm: Onto April 2004. Relations with the Sunnis had deteriorated. Had come to a head in Fallujah, where marines were planning to enter in force. How did Blair view that situation?
“At the time I felt the Americans were going in too hard and too heavy… Looking back it at it now, I’m not sure I was right about that.”
The reality, he says, is there were people who did not want a Sunni-Shia reconciliation to happen.
4.14pm: But were there enough troops? The Americans [read former defence secretary Rumsfeld], says Freedman, had made very little provision for the aftermath. Blair resists any temptation to criticise US planning. His charm is dissipating. Looks more tense. Stresses that you can’t shift easily from combat to peace-keeping.
4.07pm: Was disbanding the Iraqi army – and its so-called “de-Ba’athification” – a good idea? Blair unsure.
4.05pm: Alex: We haven’t heard much from Sir John Chilcot. Veteran inquiry watchers [edit: poor souls] will know that at the start of this inquiry he tended to ask a lot more questions. But after mixed success he’s stepped back a bit from frontline interrogation and left it to Sir Rod. It is for good reason. This is one of Sir John’s classic questions: “What I am asking really is: Was there anything, any juice in the lemon to be squeezed out of trying to peer behind the curtain into the mind of the regime of Saddam?” Brilliant.
4.01pm: Blair makes his “2010″ point – i.e. what would have happened if we hadn’t invaded… “If we’d left Saddam there and he’d carried on… I’d have little doubt myself that today we would be facing a situation where Iraq would be competing with Iran, on weapons capability, and in respect of support of terrorist groups.”
3.57pm: He’s really letting Tehran have it now. I wonder where we would be with them if Blair was still in Number Ten. “We tried very hard with the Iranians, to try to reach out to them… and one of the most disappointing but most telling aspects of this is that the Iranians, whatever they said from the beginning, were a major destabilising factor in this situation, and quite deliberatly.”
3.53pm: More on those unknown unknowns. “People did not believe you would have al-Qaeda coming in and people did not believe that you would have Iran trying to destabilise the country.”
3.51pm: This is what Paul Waugh, of the Evening Standard, has to say:
“Like him or loathe him, Tony Blair has proved today that he remains the most impressive (if increasingly lonely) champion for the Iraq War.
In an evidence session that showed the best and the worst of the man who dominated British politics for more than a decade, he was the ultimate political advocate.
Many will say that his arguments were specious and choc full of bogus reasoning, but boy did he sound authoritative and passionate.
While Bush’s homespun soundbites fail to impress and Gordon Brown plods, Blair was back doing what he does best: a barrister making the case for the seemingly impossible.
Although the committee did their job in prodding him on inconsistencies and logical cul-de-sacs, this was a man was determined to be the Prosecutor [against Saddam] rather than the Defendant in the Dock.
There have been many rhetorical flourishes, but perhaps the quote that summed it up was his line that the world was still failing to confront the awful threat posed by rogue states, terrorist fanatics and deadly weapons of mass destruction.”
3.36pm: But, admits Blair, another assumption made, i.e. that Iran was not going to be provocative, also changed. The Iranian issue “became much larger” in 2004 and 2005.
3.43pm: They’re off again. On the military challenge following the conflict. The military were confident, he says, at a very early stage, they should be ready to deal with any lingering resistance and provide security for local people.
3.40pm: Due to resume imminently.
3.38pm: And this (courtesy of Alan Jones of the Press Association) about someone who’s not such a fan…
The mother of a 19-year-old soldier killed in Iraq finally sat a few feet away from Tony Blair today, years after trying to confront the ex-premier – and found herself feeling “sick”‘ with emotion.
Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in June 2004, managed to get a ticket at the last minute to be in the same room as Mr Blair during his questioning by the Chilcot inquiry.
She was not among the family members of those killed in action originally drawn in a ballot for tickets to see today’s session.
But when she arrived at the QEII conference centre in Westminster this morning, she learned that she would be allowed into the same room as Mr Blair after all.
She accused Mr Blair of being “smarmy” and of refusing to acknowledge any of the scores of military families who attended today’s hearing.
Mrs Gentle sat a few feet away from the former prime minister and said she was “shaking” after coming so close to him following years of trying to meet him.
Asked how she felt, she replied: “Actually, I felt sick. He seemed to be shaking as well, which I am pleased about – the eyes of all the families were on him.
“He had a smirk on his face which has made the families very angry. He has convinced himself that he was right, but it has emerged today that half the Cabinet were not given all the papers. It makes me so angry.
“He didn’t look at any of us – he just sat with his back to us, and has refused to meet us afterwards, which is typical of him.
“I am glad I saw him, but I would have preferred to see his face. I don’t think we have learned anything new, and when the inquiry ends there’s not much we can do.
“I have been writing to him for years asking for a meeting, and he didn’t have the decency to acknowledge us or meet us today to say sorry.
“I will never forgive him and I believe he should stand trial. I will be angry with him for the rest of my life.”
3.29pm: While they’re away, here’s this from His Master’s Voice…
Alastair Campbell writes on his blog: “I watched most of this morning’s TB session on the Iraq inquiry website. I don’t know who put the site together but I wished we’d had more of them around when I was doing government communications. It is clear, simple and very well designed.
It also means it is possible to watch a screen freed from the clutter of broadcasters who seem to think the public’s attention span is as a gnattish as theirs. I’m all for twitter as one form of communication, but I’m not sure we need the running commentary of reporters, or the constant reminders of what has already been said.
I said when this inquiry first started that some people will never believe that there was a case for the war in Iraq, and will always believe that there was some duplicity or conspiracy behind the decision to go to war.
There was nothing said this morning that I haven’t heard many times before, but for me the most important part of the procedings was when TB pointed out that ultimately this was a judgement that he as Prime Minister had to make.
The inquiry is rightly going over all the key moments in the decision-making processes involved, and pointing out that at every turn, different options could have been pursued and different decisions taken. That is the nature of any walk of life, but perhaps especially politics and international statesmanship.
It is clear from the blanket coverage, here and abroad, the all day trending on twitter, and the volume of traffic to news sites, that his appearance will generate millions of comments, but ultimately there are only two views. He made the right judgement. Or he made the wrong judgement.
Many of those who think he made the wrong judgement may express themselves more violently, and frankly nothing said today is likely ever to move them from the position they hold.
As someone who thinks he made the right judgement, and as someone who saw all the processes that led to him making it, I think what today has shown so far is that he was fully seized of the enormity of the decision, but that ultimately the security and strategic interests of the UK left him with no option but to take the course he did.
Too much of this debate is conducted in black or white terms. Political and diplomatic judgements are rarely black and white. But those who say he was wrong, let alone those who say he is evil, or a liar, or any of the other insults bandied around by opponents, at least have to acknowledge the ‘what if’ question that he posed this morning. What if Saddam had been left unchecked, continuing to defy the UN and face down the world, and what if he had continued to develop and one day use – as he had before – a WMD programme? Judgements are rarely black and white. Nor are unintended consequences. There would have been consequences to inaction too.”
3.22pm They break for tea.
3.21pm Chilcot hints at one of the inquiry’s likely conclusions. He tells Blair there was “no real analysis of the best case, middle case, worst case and the resource implications of that. We knew very little about the situation inside Iraq. We had amassed a good deal of knowledge, but none of it sufficient. Is it ever safe to look at a single set of assumptions unless they can be tested…”
Any lesson Blair has learned? Yes, if we go into something like this agian, we might as well assume the worst. That’s reassuring.
3.19pm: Sky’s Glen Oglaza makes a top point: Blair said they were expecting a humanitarian crisis, not a violent insurgency. So, they HAD planned, but for the wrong thing.
3.18pm: Alex: Dare I say it as we enter the fourth hour of Blair testimony, but this panel needs more time to question him properly. One of the most revealing days of evidence so far has been with Lord Goldsmith, where the inquiry took six hours to examine a single decision, looking at every meeting, influence and piece of advice. They had the time to unpack what happened. This clearly is not the case today. They have too much to get through. It means they are talking about the costs and benefits of the final decisions, rather than the way that decision was reached. Blair looks completely untroubled.
3.08pm: Under further questioning from Prashar, who cites the evidence of former cabinet secretary Lord Turnbull, Blair admits that, from early January 2003 onwards, he knew UK would be running the south of Iraq. (in the event of invasion I presume, unlikely to be a slip)… “Did we weigh up all the liabilities, resources?” she asks. “Yes,” says Blair.
3.05pm Nope, I’m wrong. This is what happened according to TB: “When we got in there we discovered a different set of eventualities and we deal with those realities.” That’s not Clare Short’s view, as Prashar points out. Then again, what would she know? She was denied all the secret stuff for fear of her leaking it.
3.04pm “We did an immense amount of planning,” says Blair. Ha Ha Ha
3.02pm Right, we have a new window. The earlier stuff should still be on display. Looks like an unsatisfactory conclusion to the legal question. Blair stressed Goldsmith’s “integrity” and legal credentials, but the question of what he said to Goldsmith in the week before the outbreak of war was not really pursued Prashar onto the aftermath “planning”. Didn’t know they did any. I thought the plan was “no plan”. She calls it “inadequate”.
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Hi. This post is the second part of the FT’s live blog from inside – and outside – the Iraq inquiry. Chris Adams, former political hack turned news editor, and Alex Barker, our man on the spot, are your guides.