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Iraq overshadows Blair’s legacy: Blair's Decade

Posted By Philippe Khan

On Thursday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a key player on the world stage for a decade, announced that he would resign as Labour Party leader, setting his departure for June 27. 

The announcement triggered praise for the UK’s last and youngest premier for his role in fighting poverty in Africa, defending Kosovo, climate change and leaving Britain more progressive than ever; bringing about a "revolution" in the Labour Party, overseeing peace in Northern Ireland, strong economic growth, an anti-poverty campaign and modernization of public services. 

But the outgoing leader came under heavy criticism for two major issues, including the Iraq war and the anti-terror laws that antagonized Britain’s two million-strong Muslim community. 

Critics say Blair’s decision to back the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq overshadowed his domestic program. "I think that in the same way that perhaps one of the biggest long-term successes (of Blair) is bringing peace to Ireland, the most catastrophic error is the war in Iraq," said Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London. 

In fact, Iraq brought the worst of Blair, who desperately tried to justify the invasion amid a series of inquiries into the absence of weapons of mass destruction in the war-torn country. 

Recent surveys show that 7 in 10 Britons believe that the war will tarnish Blair’s legacy. An informal Monitor survey about Britons’ assessment of Blair’s work found a broad range of positives – the minimum wage, better hospitals, an independent Bank of England, even free museums – but Iraq was the single negative thing cited by those polled. 

"Whatever good he did for this country – actually quite a lot – is totally overshadowed by his crimes in Iraq," says Andrew Sparke, a Londoner. 

Most Britons also think that the Iraq war made them less safe. Though Blair argues that Britain was under threat of terror attacks long before the invasion, many Britain’s believe the July 7, 2005 bombings were somehow linked to Iraq. 

"It (the war) has, in a sense, created a whole new generation of terrorists,” Mayor Livingstone said. 

The 7/7 attacks were followed by the anti-terror laws that many British Muslims have been victimized by. Since the laws came into effect, hundreds of Muslims have been detained without charges. 

Naheed Rahmani, a first-generation Briton born to parents from the subcontinent, says that although she believes that Britain remains a tolerant society, Muslims feel a backlash from the anti-terror campaign. "There is no doubt that Asians, and Muslims in particular, face a greater degree of scrutiny than ever before, with nationality tests, debates over immigrants and language, raids on Muslim homes, and national debates on veil wearing," she says. 

Many Britons also blame Blair for not questioning the United States’ insistence on going to war despite resistance from many states. 

An editorial published on the pan-Arab Al-Quds Al-Arabi states: “Britons will always remember Blair as the man who misled them and made their country dependent on a reckless U.S. president who waged destructive and unsuccessful wars... Blair must stand before court as a war criminal to answer for many crimes such as turning Iraq into a mass grave.” 

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said Blair’s decision to join the 2003 invasion was likely influenced by the notion that "every British prime minister has a historical duty to be very close to the American administration."

The Israelis also had something to say about Blair’s departure. “Blair not only joined George W. Bush in the war on Iraq, he also took part in all the president's lies. As Israelis we have no reason to regret Blair's premature departure. He showered us and the Palestinians with promises of his personal commitment to seek a solution to the conflict, but here, too, he followed Bush, the turkey, like a lame duck,” wrote former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid in Israel’s Haaretz. 

This notion was stressed by President Bush’s comment on Blair’s resignation. 

Stressing his personal friendship with Blair – a relationship in which some thought the British premier followed Bush's lead too closely, the American President said: “I found him to be a man who kept his word, which sometimes is rare in the political circles I run in.” 

Of course, being a close ally to the Americans prevented Blair from winning the friendship of the Iraqi people. "His departure will make very little difference for Iraqis," said Namiq Latif, 41, a Sunni Arab resident of Baghdad. "Blair was a stooge to America and his successor will be the same." 

The only good thing that could have emerged from the war is that it could make it harder for Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, to mount similar missions, according to Stephen Twigg, a former Labour MP. 

To sum up, the Iraq disaster would continue to loom over every good thing Blair accomplished because it’s impossible to go back in time and prevent the war. "Prime ministers tend to get one sentence in history books and in Blair's case that will probably be Iraq," says John Rentoul, a Blair biographer.


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