Iraq war only blot amid global praise

TONY Blair, a major player on the world stage for a decade, won global praise yesterday for defending Kosovo, fighting poverty in Africa and overseeing peace in Northern Ireland — but came under heavy criticism for championing the US push into Iraq.

Finnish president Tarja Halonen said Mr Blair had been “a significant European leader and innovator for the last decade” who at the start of his tenure increased Britain’s involvement in European integration.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, credited Mr Blair with taking “Britain from the fringes to the mainstream of the European Union”.

“He has done this by engagement, not by vetoes. He has brought to Europe energy, engagement and ideas,” said Mr Barroso.

Ms Halonen and Mr Barroso praised Mr Blair for his role in African development and climate change.

Mr Blair may have brought Britain closer to the continent on European politics, but it was clear yesterday that the Iraq war was an abiding divide in cross-channel relations.

Many viewed the war as the otherwise globally successful Mr Blair’s blind spot, and criticised him for not questioning the US insistence on going to war despite resistance from many nations.

Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said the war led to Mr Blair’s eventual demise, and that his decision to join the 2003 invasion was probably influenced by the notion that “every British prime minister has a historical duty to be very close to the American administration”.

“It is no easy task to make fundamentally different policy assessments (from the US) on important foreign policy matters,” he said.

Again and again, it seemed, the “but-for-Iraq” clause kept popping up in praise for the leader, even as people around the globe ticked off Mr Blair’s successes: peace in Northern Ireland, putting the fight against poverty in Africa on the global agenda, and raising the profile of climate change.

“I think that in the same way that perhaps one of the biggest long-term successes is bringing peace to Ireland, the most catastrophic error is the war in Iraq,” said Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London. “It has, in a sense, created a whole new generation of terrorists.”

Support for the Iraq invasion won Mr Blair friends in the States.

US President George W Bush stressed his personal friendship with Mr Blair.

“I have found him to be a man who kept his word, which sometimes is rare in the political circles I run in,” Mr Bush said.

Former US president, Bill Clinton, also said he considered Mr Blair a friend.

Being a steadfast friend of the Americans, of course, lost him friends elsewhere.

Namiq Latif, 41, a Sunni Arab resident of Baghdad, said: “Blair was a stooge to America and his successor will be the same.”

However, some Iraqis have credited Mr Blair with Britain’s relative success in the south, where its soldiers have been based.

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