An attempted internal party coup within the British Labour Party is being blamed on the publication of an official government report by John Chilcot into the Iraq war. Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister and Labour leader, was savaged in the verdict and faces angry demands for justice from British victims of the war.
Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said the ongoing effort to unseat avowed socialist Jeremy Corbyn by some of Blair’s former colleagues is designed to stop him ‘calling for his head’ after the long-awaited Chilcot report.
On Wednesday, Chilcot delivered a devastating critique of Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, concluding that Britain chose to go to war before “peaceful options for disarmament” had been exhausted.
His report amounts to the most scathing official verdict given on any modern British prime minister. Among its conclusions was that Blair exaggerated the case for war in Iraq -- there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein -- while Britain’s intelligence agencies produced false information. Seven years after hearings first began, it was a more far-reaching and damning document than many had expected. It eviscerated Blair’s style of government and decision-making.
It also revealed that in a remarkable private note sent on 28 July 2002 Blair promised Bush: “I will be with you, whatever.”
The former British PM came under a barrage of criticism this week for attempting to “spin” the report when he defended his decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, while also expressing “sorrow, regret and apology” for “mistakes” he made in planning the conflict.
“I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer,” he said. He insisted he made only minor mistakes involving “planning and process”, and said he “couldn’t accept” criticism that British soldiers died in vain.
A pro-Blair ‘old guard’ are currently seeking to protect their former leader from a judicial process by organising a campaign to remove Jeremy Corbyn, who vigorously opposed the war.
Alex Salmond said many Labour MPs shared the view that the ongoing coup, which saw the mass resignation of almost the entire shadow cabinet, is timed to avoid Corbyn calling for Blair’s prosecution as a war criminal.
He said: “Many would say that when Corbyn stated that he would be prepared to see a former Labour Prime Minister tried for war crimes then he sealed his fate as leader of the Labour party.”
The Inquiry, which was set up by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in June 2009 to look into the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, released its 2.6 million word report on Wednesday. It damaged the reputations of a number of high-ranking officials, and left Blair battling to avoid a tribunal at the Hague.
Blair was described as “the worst terrorist in the world” by a woman whose brother was killed in the Iraq war, as the family members of British soldiers gave their response to the Chilcot report.
Sarah O’Connor broke down in tears as she addressed an emotional press conference shortly after the long-awaited report was published.
“There is one terrorist in this world that the world needs to be aware of, and his name is Tony Blair, the world’s worst terrorist,” she said, to cheers from some of the other relatives.
Mr Corbyn has apologised for his party’s “disastrous decision to go to war”, calling it the most serious foreign policy calamity of the last 60 years, but stopped short of demanding a judicial process against Blair. Mr Salmond said that there had to be a “judicial or political reckoning” for Blair’s role in the Iraq conflict.
“He seemed puzzled as to why Jeremy Corbyn thinks he is a war criminal, why people don’t like him,” he added. “The reason is 179 British war dead, 150,000 immediate dead from the Iraq conflict, the Middle East in flames, the world faced with an existential crisis on terrorism - these are just some of the reasons perhaps he should understand why people don’t hold him in the highest regard.”
Calls for Mr Blair to face a war crimes trial have so far been rejected, but influential politicians have said he should be stripped of his honurs, including the right to sit on the Privy Council - the formal body of advisers to the English queen - and the ‘Right Honourable’ title that goes with it.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said he had warned Tony Blair about the Iraq war, but still praised him for his role in the Irish peace Process. “The only Prime Minister that delivered and faced up to Britain’s role in the North of Ireland was Tony Blair,” he said.