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Corbyn: I will apologise for UK's role in Iraq war if elected Labour leader

'It is past time that Labour apologised to the British people for taking them into the Iraq war ... and to the Iraqi people for the suffering we have helped cause'
Displaced Iraqi civilians sit in an US Marine truck as they wait to be evacuated from the city of Fallujah 17 November 2004 (AFP)

Jeremy Corbyn said on Friday that he would apologise for the Iraq war if he secures the Labour Party leadership vote, due to be announced next month.

Corbyn, long known for his opposition to the 2003 US-led invasion, is currently tipped to secure the leadership, amidst a spike in grassroots interest for his candidacy.  

Under the then Labour prime minister Tony Blair, Britain joined the US led by George W Bush in invading Iraq in 2003 and had troops there until 2011. The decision is now deeply unpopular in the UK and has haunted Labour ever since.

"It is past time that Labour apologised to the British people for taking them into the Iraq war on the basis of deception and to the Iraqi people for the suffering we have helped cause," Corbyn told the Guardian newspaper.

"Under our Labour, we will make this apology."

The Iraq Body Count project puts the civilian death toll at 219,000 since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, although some believe it to be higher. Almost 180 British and 4,425 US personnel were killed in the war. 

“Let us say we will never again unnecessarily put our troops under fire and our country’s standing in the world at risk," he said. 

His anti-austerity views are well to the left of current Labour policy, leading to warnings from senior figures such as Blair that Corbyn’s leadership would make the party unable to win a general election.

At the time of the Iraq invasion, Blair advocated joining it by arguing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but evidence of this has never been found. He has since expressed regret for the loss of life with former Labour leader Ed Miliband calling the war wrong, although both men have fallen short of issuing a formal apology. 

Blair continues to argue it was still right to remove Saddam as he posed a threat to the region.

A YouGov opinion poll in June indicated that 51 percent of Britons now think it was wrong to take military action in Iraq, compared to 26 percent who think it was right.

However, Corbyn has come under growing fire in British media for some of his views on the region. Channel 4 News recently unearthed footage of Corbyn in 2014 in which he talks about the US takeover of Fallujah in 2004 and the Islamic State group takeover a decade later. “Yes they [IS] are brutal, yes some of what they have done is quite appalling, likewise what the Americans did in Fallujah and other places is appalling,” Corbyn told Russia Today, when trying to explain how IS managed to secure at least a degree of cooperation from residents in Sunni-majority cities in western Iraq. 

Corbyn's announcement about a possible Labour apology comes as pressure grows for an inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war to be released after six years.

The Chilcot inquiry is being delayed by a process in which individuals named in the report are given the chance to respond to criticism.

Elsewhere in his interview Corbyn also stressed he would be cautious of military interventions overseas.

“It has also lost Labour the votes of millions of our natural supporters, who marched and protested against the war. We turned our backs on them and many of them have either withheld their votes from us or felt disillusioned, unenthusiastic and unmotivated,” he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron's government is considering asking parliament to approve air strikes on Islamic State (IS) group targets in Syria. British troops are fighting against IS in Iraq, but for the moment are only assisting US and other anti-IS coalition allies who are flying combat missions in Syria.

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