Blair Shrugs Off Blame for Chaos Fomented by Invasion of Iraq
Questioned by audience member in Davos, former UK Prime Minister told he has 'great responsibility' for instability caused by 2003 invasion
Speaking at a World Economic Forum panel on religious conflict on Wednesday, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair ducked blame after facing accusations of provoking the current instability in the Middle East.
During a panel entitled "Religion: A Pretext for Conflict?" held at the yearly gathering of global elites held annually in Davos, Switzerland, a questioner from the audience reportedly told the former PM that his decision to enter the Iraq war with former U.S. President George W. Bush in 2003 was to blame for the escalated violence across the region.
"I think you have a great responsibility for the conflicts we have now," the questioner added, to some applause.
During his response, Blair dodged culpability and instead blamed a "closed minded view of the world" and a "perversion of Islam" which he says has perpetuated a "culture of hatred."
"[M]y view is you can debate the political decisions, but at some point we have got to understand this extremism has grown up over a long period of time, over decades, its roots are deep within a perversion of the religion of Islam," Blair said. He added that the "root problem" is that extremists are educated with a "closed minded view of the world."
Blair continued: "And we have got to stop making excuses for those people and start to tackle the fundamental incubation of that problem, which lies in formal and informal education systems educating young people to a culture of hatred to those that are different."
Blair further defended contemporary interventions in Africa and the Middle East and insisted that it was the right decision to go after Saddam Hussein, saying the Iraqi leader "wasn't exactly a force for stability, peace and prosperity for his country and was responsible for killing many, many hundreds of thousands of people."
Also Wednesday, Blair fended off questions about the Chilcot Inquiry after news broke that the release of the U.K. government review of the controversial Iraq invasion would now be delayed until after general elections in May.
According to the Huffington Post, publication of the review has been held up by disputes over the release of confidential messages between Blair and Bush and by a bureaucratic process which mandates that people who are criticized in the report are first given the chance to respond.
The notes between the two leaders are said to "illuminate prime minister Blair’s positions at critical points," said inquiry chair Sir John Chilcot. "The question of when and how the prime minister made commitments to the U.S. about the U.K.’s involvement in military action in Iraq, and subsequent decisions on the U.K.’s continuing involvement, is central to its considerations," Chilcot said.
After much back and forth, the Huffington Post reports, "Sir John finally accepted an agreement whereby he would publish the 'gist' of the communications between Blair and Bush after the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood blocked the publication of the full exchanges."
Watch Blair's full response in Davos below.