Britain’s Blair says 2003 Iraq invasion played role in ISIL’s rise

Former prime minister acknowledges mistakes made during Iraq War led to the rise of armed group ISIL

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged the 2003 invasion of Iraq played a part in the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and apologized for some mistakes in planning the war, in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

Blair's decision to send troops to back the U.S.-led invasion is still a live political issue in Britain, where a six-year public inquiry into the conflict is yet to publish its findings.

Asked whether the offensive was the principal cause of the rise of ISIL, which now controls large areas of Iraq and neighboring Syria, Blair said there were "elements of truth" in that.

"Of course, you can't say that those of us who removed [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam [Hussein] in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015," Blair told CNN.

Critics say the U.S. decision to disband Saddam’s army after the invasion created a security vacuum exploited by Al-Qaeda, which was eventually replaced by ISIL.

Some former Iraqi army officers, members of the Sunni Muslim minority, which says it has been marginalized by the Shia-led government backed by Western powers, are senior strategists in ISIL. The Iraqi government says it has not marginalized Sunnis.

Blair said the Arab Spring uprisings across the region also affected Iraq and pointed out that ISIL arose in Syria, not Iraq.

He apologized for what he described as mistakes in planning and intelligence before the war and in preparations for what would happen once Saddam was removed but said it was the right decision.

"We have tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq. We've tried intervention without putting in troops in Libya. And we've tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria. It's not clear to me that, even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies have worked better," he said.

"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."

It is estimated that nearly 500,000 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence since 2003.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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