Blair says Iraq violence has Syria link

Insurgency a ‘predictable’ result of West’s failure to intervene, says former UK PM

A man walks past near remains of burnt vehicles belonging to Iraqi security forces in the northern Iraq city of Mosul. Photograph: Reuters

A man walks past near remains of burnt vehicles belonging to Iraqi security forces in the northern Iraq city of Mosul. Photograph: Reuters

Sun, Jun 15, 2014, 08:38

Violent insurgency in Iraq is the “predictable” result of the West’s failure to intervene in Syria, not of the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair declared in a renewed call for military action.

The former British prime minister rejected as “bizarre” arguments that Iraq would be more stable and peaceful today if the US-backed war, which claimed the lives of 179 UK personnel, had not happened.

And he said that unless the international community was prepared to overcome public reluctance and confront the extremists “hard, with force”, the consequences would be more serious still.

Mr Blair - now a Middle East peace envoy - said Iraq was “in mortal danger” but pinned the blame on the sectarianism of the Maliki government and the spread of Syria’s brutal three-year civil war.

Sweeping territorial gains for the radical Sunni fighters from the al-Qaeda offshoot Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) have refocused attention on the hugely controversial 2003 Iraq war.

But Mr Blair hit back at critics in an eight-page essay on his website, saying al-Qaeda had been a “beaten force” in Iraq as recently as three years ago but the chance of peace was squandered by Baghdad.

“By all means argue about the wisdom of earlier decisions,” he wrote. “But it is the decisions now that will matter.

“The choices are all pretty ugly, it is true. But for three years we have watched Syria descend into the abyss and as it is going down, it is slowly but surely wrapping its cords around us pulling us down with it.

“We have to put aside the differences of the past and act now to save the future.

“Where the extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard, with force.”

It did not mean another invasion, he said - as US president Barack Obama considers other military options such as air strikes.

“There are masses of responses we can make short of that. But they need to know that wherever they’re engaged in terror, we will be hitting them.”

Mr Blair said the Iraq assault had been planned and prepared in the Syria conflict zone and was the “predictable and malign effect” of allowing that situation to be exploited by extremists.

“There is...no doubt that a major proximate cause of the takeover of Mosul by Isis is the situation in Syria. To argue otherwise is wilful,” he said.

Air strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad had been on the table last summer over its use of chemical weapons but a Commons vote against the idea helped end the prospect of action.