Families of soldiers killed in Iraq have told of their “revulsion” at Tony Blair’s failure to give a full apology for the war and warned that the Chilcot report will be “a cover-up”.
Mr Blair used a CNN interview to apologise for elements to the Iraq war, prompting immediate accusations that he is attempting to “preemt” the report into the conflict due to be published by Sir John Chilcot.
He expressed regret over the failure to plan properly for the aftermath of the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein and the false intelligence used to justify it.
However, he crucially said that he would “find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam”.
Mr Blair has already been made aware of the criticism to be levelled against him in the report under the process “Maxwellisation”, designed to give people the chance to respond.
The former Labour leader’s decision to apologise only for the false intelligence used to justify the invasion and the failure to plan for the aftermath prompted immediate speculation that these are the only criticisms Sir John will make about Mr Blair.
Critics accused Mr Blair of a “spin operation” to try and “get in front” of the Chilcot report.
Sir John will next month tell David Cameron when he intends to publish his heavily delayed report.
Mr Blair told CNN: “I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong. Because even though he had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the programme in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought. So I can apologise for that.
“I can also apologise by the way for some of the mistakes in planning and certainly our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
He added: “But I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam. I think even from today in 2015, it is better that he’s not there than that he is there.”
Asked by host Fareed Zakaria if the Iraq War was “the principal cause” of the rise of Islamic State, he said: “I think there are elements of truth in that.”
He added: “Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”
Reg Keys, whose son Lance Corporal Tom Keys was killed in Iraq in 2003, said that he felt “revulsion” when he heard Mr Blair’s comments.
“I feel revulsion,” Mr Keys said. “This man certainly got it wrong. 179 British service personnel dead, 3,500 wounded. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children that lost their lives. The guy has got to hold his hands up [and say] I got it wrong and I apologise.”
Mr Keys added: ““I feel that he’s obviously pre-empting the Iraq inquiry’s findings. It’s finger-pointing. He’s blaming intelligence chiefs for giving him the wrong intelligence. He’s not apologising for toppling Saddam.
“What about apologising for the unnecessary loss of life? The reason we went to war was weapons of mass destruction, not to topple Saddam.”
Asked if he is worried Mr Blair’s comments show that the Chilcot report will be a “cover-up”, Mr Keys said: “The Chilcot report will be diluted. [It will] spread the blame thinly over everyone so they can’t blame an individual.”
Clare Short, the former Labour Cabinet minister who resigned over Iraq, said: “This is Tony Blair who apologised for the Irish potato famine. He’s very good at apologising for things he’s not responsible for.”
She added: “He’s sorry for bits but he’s not really sorry.”