Britain’s former prime minister Tony Blair said on Wednesday he could not delay the invasion of Iraq in 2003, responding to a critical report on the war which found that taking military action was not the last resort that had been presented to parliament and the public.
The Chilcot report, published earlier on Wednesday, said the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq came while diplomatic options were still open, but Blair said that because the United States had decided on action, he could not afford to wait any longer.
“The inquiry claims that military action was not a last resort, but it also says that it might have been necessary later. With respect, I didn’t have the option of that delay,” Blair told reporters.
“I took this decision because I believed it was the right thing to do based upon the information I had and the threats I perceived.”
Blair’s justification, planning and handling of the Iraq War involved a catalog of failures, a seven-year inquiry concluded on Wednesday in a scathing verdict on Britain’s role in the conflict.
Eight months before the 2003 invasion, Blair told U.S. President George W. Bush “I will be with you, whatever”, eventually sending 45,000 British troops into battle when peace options had not been exhausted, the long-awaited British public inquiry said.
More than 13 years since the invasion, Iraq remains in chaos, with large areas under the control of Islamic State militants who have claimed responsibility for attacks on Western cities.
Many Britons want Blair to face criminal action over his decision to take military action that led to the deaths of 179 British soldiers and more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians over the following six years.
Critics also say it fueled a deep distrust in politicians and the ruling establishment. The report was issued 13 days after Britons delivered a stunning blow to their political leaders by voting to leave the European Union.
The inquiry, which was given unprecedented access to confidential government documents and took longer to complete than British military involvement in the conflict itself, said Blair had relied on flawed intelligence and determined the way the war was legally authorized was unsatisfactory.
The threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction – the original justification for war – had been over-hyped and the planning for the aftermath of war had been inadequate, it found.
“It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said the inquiry chairman, former civil servant John Chilcot.