Welcome back. The FT’s Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war. This post will automatically refresh every three minutes, although it may take longer on mobile devices.
Read our earlier post here.
1411 Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. People began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: “Well stop trying to kill them.” Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted “It is too late”, another said “he’ll never look us in the eye”. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq,delivered the final blow. “Your lies killed my son,” she said. “I hope you can live with it.”
1402 That’s it folks. We’re winding up. Chilcot has thanked the audience. A calmer and slightly more contrite performance from Tony Blair, but no less assured than his first appearance before the inquiry. The main difference has been the Chilcot panel’s approach — much more detailed questions, much more forensic and at times incredibly boring. They are clearly close to the end of writing the report and are relatively settled on the conclusions, which will not make pleasant reading for Blair. Some of this was trying to fill in gaps, rather than skewer Blair. The raw emotion in the room — some people were crying as Blair expressed his regrets over the loss of life — shows what a live issue this still is. The report, when it’s published later this year, will be an important moment.
1355 Heckles! Blair admitted that in his first testimony he gave the impression that he did not regret anything. This time, he said, he wanted to make clear that he regrets “deeply and profoundly the loss of life”. A moment of contrition. But that didn’t satisfy some of the families in the audience, who started to shout him down. They then walked out of the room.
1352 Bam. Blair has unleashed both barrels on Iran and the “wretched posture of apology” in the West towards it. It is time, he says, to “take our heads out of the sand”.
“The fact is that [Iran] are doing it because they disagree fundamentally with out way of life and they are going to carry on doing it unless they are met with the requisite determination and necessary force”.
That will make headlines tomorrow and I’m sure Blair knows it.
1347 Has the war deterred Iran over the nuclear programme? Rod Lynne looks unconvinced. Blair says lots of people in the Middle East complain that he made Iran more powerful. His answer: “The answer to Iran is not Saddam”. The Iranians, he said, initially felt that pressure. Rod snaps back that they may feel they need more protection now against the US.
1345 Should Whitehall have predicted that Iran would meddle and seek to undermine the US? “You might say with hindsight, yes, but honestly it is with hindsight.
1343 Lynne is getting impatient. “No one would question that and we went over it at enormous length the last time you were here”
1343 Blair: “My view is that in any situation where you are going to have to engage in nation building where this Islamist extremism is a factor, whatever planning you do you will be in for a hard relentless struggle, whatever you do.”
1340 Lynne suggests more should be done to predict the problems emerging from a power vacuum. Blair cites Pakistan as an example of where terrorists don’t need a power vacuum to cause instability.
1335 Blair doesn’t criticise those who gave him advice. He then puts on his inter-faith hat to argue that the nub of the problems in the middle east and the Islamic world is a prevalent idea that somehow the west is opposed to Islam
1331 Lynne has taken over. He asks whether Blair, on reflection, thinks the advice given to him on al Qaeda and Iran’s potential role in Iraq should have been better. “Shouldn’t the experts have anticipated…that al Qaeda would have tried to exploit such a situation?”
1330 “They weren’t warning me about what eventually took place. On the contrary,” Blair says. More attention, he argues, should have been paid to the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq
1326 Martin Gilbert now in the chair. He’s highlighting the warnings Blair received about “internecine fighting” that would have been triggered by an invasion. Blair says he addressed it through a “governing council” to make sure all ethnic groups were represented.
1324 Blair is arguing that nation building in places like Iraq is a “solvable problem” if the right preparations are made in terms of maintaining a state bureaucracy
1320 For those who got a bit lost in the early stages of the questioning over Basra, there is just one important fact to remember: British officials and generals were unaware they would be responsible for the Basra region until two weeks after the invasion. Blair insisted that while the details were still under discussion, it was recognised in Whitehall that Britain would be the “de facto” administrator.
1315 Blair says that Paul Bremer did “a pretty good job” in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority. The problems mainly started after he left, Blair argues. This makes Blair one of Bremer’s few defenders in the world. His abrupt decision to disband the Iraqi army — against the advice of some in the White House, state department and Foreign Office — and pursue de-Baathification were probably the two most controversial in the aftermath of war.
1312 Prashar is attempting to pin Blair down (with little success) on the legal and practical trade-offs of being a “joint occupying power”. The criticism of Blair is that Britain took more responsibility than it had the power or influence to discharge.
1310 Blair on co-operation in administering Iraq after the invasion: “I think it would be a bit harsh to say that the Americans were not consulting us at all.”
1304 No fireworks today. But there is no doubt that the panel has been much more pointed with the questions. And there have certainly been clear clues as to the conclusions of the report (will try and summarise some of this later). Blair may leave the room unscathed. But from the line of questioning he has faced, he’ll probably realise the final report will not make good reading for him.
1300 Blair is now denying ever turning down resources. “Money wasn’t the problem, it really wasn’t the problem”. He says he was frustrated by seeing people down the chain complaining to the inquiry about poor resources. He thought those officials on the ground would have taken up his open door policy at the time and told him about any shortages of kit or money…..hmm…..
1258 He denies that a minister overseeing the planning would have solved the problem. Prashar then interrupts Blair to say the problems seem to be the assumptions made and the lack of will to work closely with the Americans. That criticism will no doubt make it into the final report.
12.56 “None of these issues were insurmountable. If we went back again would we do it differently, yes of course we would,” Blair says. But his regrets are more about the lack of capacity, something that could not have been resolved by tinkering with committees.
12.58 Prashar is again asking whether Britain had the influence or the access to improve US plans. Blair insists that he did everything he could. His argument is that a state infrastructure would remain in place for the coalition forces to inherit. Blair’s implication is that it was the fundamental assumption driving all the planning (or lack thereof).
12.55 Blair is talking around how the responsibilities for nation building were split up. It is a fascinating area. How much should Whitehall have cared about the absence of a US plan? Blair is insisting Britain didn’t just leave it to the Americans. But it doesn’t chime with past evidence the inquiry has been given.
Lord Turnbull testified to the “discomfort” of being a “10 per cent shareholder” while still having to “carry in your area full responsibility”. Meanwhile one panel member once vividly described Britain’s role as a junior military partner as like “a sardine against a whale”.
12.45 Right, we’re off at a canter with Baroness Prashar, who is taking up the topic of the post-war planning. Bit of an open goal — particularly as the plan was “to have no plan”, in the words of one key British official who gave evidence to the inquiry.