Tony Blair’s partial apology over Iraq War is ‘too little, too late’ says mum of fallen soldier Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, from Hadleigh
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Grieving mother Elsie Manning’s verdict on Mr Blair’s apologies for parts of the conflict.
Mrs Manning, 71, says she will never forgive the former prime minister who led the country into the war in 2003. Her daughter, Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, who was 34 and from Hadleigh, was one of four British soldiers who were killed in a boat attack in Southern Iraq in 2006.
Mr Blair has admitted mistakes were made in the war’s planning, that coalition forces failed to understand what would happen in its aftermath and that false intelligence was used to justify it.
In an interview with American news network CNN, Mr Blair said the war also helped cause the rise of Islamic State (ISIS), the terrorist group which since 2014 has controlled parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
He maintained, however, that the US-led invasion of Iraq was the right decision as it overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein.
Mrs Manning, who lives in South Shields near Newcastle, claimed Mr Blair’s qualified apology was because the findings of the long-awaited Chilcot Inquiry into the war were nearing publication.
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“To be quite honest it’s just pathetic that this is being done because he knows that the truth is slowly coming out,” she said. “It’s been done to save face. He is trying to wriggle out of it.
“It just beggars belief that he is saying sorry – it is too little, too late.
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“He is trying to cover himself, saying it was the best thing to do. What has happened is that it has helped let ISIS in – that’s where the trouble is.
“The Chilcot report is coming out so Mr Blair is coming and trying to appease – it will not work, I do not believe what he says.”
Sharron, who was the second female British soldier to be killed in Iraq, died on Remembrance Sunday in 2006 – November 12.
Mrs Manning said it still feels as though her daughter died “the other day”.
Mr Blair used a US television interview to express regret over the failure to plan properly for the aftermath of the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein and the false intelligence used to justify it.
“I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong,” he told CNN.
“I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
Asked by host Fareed Zakaria if the Iraq War was “the principal cause” of the rise of Islamic State, he was reported to have conceded: “I think there are elements of truth in that.”
He added: “Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also accused the ex-PM of starting to prepare the ground for expected criticisms when the long-delayed report of the Chilcot Inquiry is finally published.
“The Blair spin operation begins but the country still awaits the truth,” the Scottish National Party leader posted on Twitter.
“The delay to Chilcot report is a scandal.”
No date has yet been given for the release of the final conclusions – more than six years after the inquiry was set up by then prime minister Gordon Brown with an assurance it would take a year.
The process was severely delayed by a process known as “Maxwellisation”, under which those who may face criticism – believed to include Mr Blair – are given the opportunity to respond before publication.
Relatives of soldiers killed in the conflict, including Mrs Manning, have threatened legal action if a date is not fixed soon.
A spokeswoman for the former PM said: “Tony Blair has always apologised for the intelligence being wrong and for mistakes in planning.
“He has always also said, and says again here, that he does not, however, think it was wrong to remove Saddam.
“He did not say the decision to remove Saddam in 2003 ‘caused ISIS’ and pointed out that ISIS was barely heard of at the end of 2008, when Al-Qaeda was basically beaten.
“He went on to say in 2009, Iraq was relatively more stable. What then happened was a combination of two things – there was a sectarian policy pursued by the government of Iraq, which were mistaken policies.
“But also when the Arab Spring began, ISIS moved from Iraq into Syria, built themselves from Syria and then came back into Iraq.
“All of this he has said before.”
Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott
Staff sergeant Sharron Elliott had only been in Iraq for one week when she became the second British servicewoman to be killed in the conflict.
She died along with three others when a makeshift bomb exploded while they were on a boat patrol on the Shatt al Arab waterway in Basra City on Remembrance Sunday in 2006. She was 34 years old.
Born in Ipswich, Staff Sgt Elliott went to Hadleigh Primary and Hadleigh High schools before moving to South Shields.
She joined the Army at the age of 18 and spent the early part of her career in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, becoming the first woman in the Army to qualify as an aircraft technician. She transferred to the Intelligence Corps in 1999.
Iraq was Staff Sgt Elliott’s first tour of duty after she defied medical experts, who said she would never be fit again after badly breaking her leg while skiing in Kosovo during 2003.
A year after Staff Sgt Elliott’s death, on what would have been her 35th birthday, her mum Elsie Manning organised a memorial service to be held at St Mary’s Church in Hadleigh. It was attended by around 200 people.
Families want the truth
Earlier this year Elsie Manning said there needed to be an end to the Iraq inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot.
The mother of staff sergeant Sharron Elliott is part of a group of families of soldiers killed while serving with the Army in Iraq threatening legal action to force the issue.
They believe the law requiring inquiries to be concluded in a reasonable timeframe may have been breached.
“We need an end to it,” she said in August. “We need to be able to close the door on it. We just want the truth.
“Why can’t they do it for us? It’s a knot in your stomach and it’s always there.”
She said letters to Sir John Chilcot pushing for an end date often said the report would be published the following year.
“Then the election came up and it couldn’t be published before the election,” Mrs Manning added. “It’s for the families, not to appease the politicians.”
The delay in publishing Sir John’s report has been a growing source of frustration for Prime Minister David Cameron.
Sir John insisted in July that his inquiry was making “significant progress”, although he could not set a date for the publication of his findings.
Wait for answers goes on
The findings of the official inquiry into the Iraq War are still awaited more than six years after it was set up.
Sir John Chilcot has come under fire for the drawn-out process of producing his report, which the then prime minister Gordon Brown said he expected to take “at least a year” when he commissioned it in June 2009.
The report into the 2003 conflict has been delayed by the “Maxwellisation” process, where those who may face criticism are given the opportunity to respond before publication.
Sir John said last month that he had now received the last response.
Further work would be required to evaluate the “detailed and substantial” submissions and determine how much more time would be needed to finalise the report.
Sir John has been threatened with legal action from families of Iraq War casualties over his failure to set a timetable for publication. He is now said to be planning to write to Prime Minister David Cameron in the next two weeks to set this date out.
Mr Cameron said in August that he shared the families’ “immense frustration” and urged the inquiry chairman to “get on with it”.
Downing Street has always stressed that the timing of publication is a matter for the inquiry.
Original plans for the inquiry were that it would be held behind closed doors and not apportion blame.
However, these were changed after allegations of an “establishment stitch-up”.
The final public hearing was in February 2011 but since then there have been delays because of wrangling over the release of secret documents.