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'A catastrophe, overseen by a terrorist, rambling like a madman'

Families, politicians, rights groups vent fury on Tony Blair following release of damning Chilcot report into failures of Iraq war
Rose Gentle and Sarah O'Connor at news conference after release of Chilcot report (AFP)

It was a comment that came from a Labour leader who is arguably the antithesis of Tony Blair. Standing in the House of Commons, an hour after the excoriating Chilcot report was released, Jeremy Corbyn summed up his predecessor's actions of 2003: "By any measure the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been a catastrophe."

It was an "act of military aggression... deemed illegal according to overwhelming legal opinion". It led to a "fundamental breakdown in trust in politics and in our institutions of government”. It "festered a lethal sectarianism and led to the catastrophe that exists today".

The words of Corbyn, who strongly opposed the war of 2003, were echoed by many of those in parliament today.

David Cameron, the current Conservative prime minister, who voted for the war, said: "The failures highlighted in this report is not the fault of the military but the planning that took place before a shot was fired."

Tim Farron, now leader of the Liberal Democrats, the only party to oppose the war in 2003 under then leader Charles Kennedy, said: “Blair was fixated in joining Bush in going to war in Iraq regardless of the evidence, the legality or the serious potential consequences. 

"Daesh has arisen from the complete absence of any post-conflict planning by the government.”

But it was the comments of the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq which cut the deepest. 

Speaking at a news conference after the release of Chilcot, Sarah O’Connor, who lost her brother in Iraq, said: “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."

Pauline Graham, the grandmother of 19-year-old soldier Gordon Gentle, said: “Now we know where we stand and what we can do. Tony Blair should be taken to court for trial for murder. He can’t get away with this anymore.”

“He’s destroyed families,” said the father of Kevin Thompson, another slain soldier. “We have lost grandchildren. We have lost a daughter-in-law. He’s got everything. He should be stripped of everything he has for what he’s done. It was an illegal war. My son died in vain. He died for no reason.”

Matthew Jury, a lawyer representing the family members of 29 service people who died, said it would take “weeks and months of full and proper consideration” over whether to take legal action against Blair.

Legal proceedings may be possible,” he said, but it was too early to determine anything further.

In the afternoon, Blair delivered a long rejoinder to the Chilcot report, saying it absolved him of "bad faith" - "lies" and "deceit".  

Reg Keys, who lost his son in Iraq and opposed Blair in his Sedgefield constituency in 2005, summed up Blair's response as "the ramblings of a madman".

Many had feared an Iraq Inquiry "whitewash," but Chilcot himself was applauded by the families after his statement this morning. Keys later said he had done a "damn good job".

Human rights activists were also quick to pile into Blair on his culpability for what had gone wrong.

Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said that Britain must now “fully cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s preliminary examination into alleged crimes by UK nationals in Iraq from 2003 to 2008, including murder, torture and other ill-treatment.”

Clive Baldwin, a senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch, said: "If the UK authorities prove unwilling to even investigate senior military and political figures for potential responsibility for war crimes in Iraq, the International Criminal Court should factor this into their own inquiry.”

The Stop the War Coalition said Chilcot was "a damning indictment of Tony Blair and those around him".

“It is clear that Blair used lies and deception to get his way, that the war was unnecessary and illegal and that everything was done to ensure it went ahead,” the statement said.

“We welcome the fact that this report is so damning, but for us this is not the end but the beginning. Meetings should be held in every town and city around the country.”

“There must be legal sanctions against Tony Blair and he should no longer be considered fit for any office,” it concluded.

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