LONDON - Former British prime minister Tony Blair said on Sunday it was "profoundly wrong" to think that the 2003 Anglo-U.S. invasion of Iraq helped stoke the current crisis and urged the West to take targeted military action there.
In comments likely to anger his detractors at home and abroad who believe his decisions to intervene militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan made things worse, Blair told British TV that the Iraq crisis would have happened regardless of his actions.
"You can carry on debating about whether it was right or wrong what we did in 2003 but whatever had been done, you were always going to have a problem of deep instability in the region and in Iraq," Blair told Sky News.
If Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had not been toppled by U.S. and British troops, his government would have been caught up in the same "Arab Spring" uprisings that later shook the region and now be embroiled in a bloody Syrian-style war, Blair said.
Blair spoke out as an offensive by insurgents that threatens to dismember Iraq seemed to slow after days of lightning advances as government forces regained some territory in counter-attacks.
Blair, who heads a global political consultancy business, said the West would be pulled into the Iraq crisis whether it liked it or not, urging it to target Islamist extremists in Iraq and Syria with the agreement of Arab governments in the region.
"I'm not suggesting we put ground troops in and we do a full scale invasion as we did in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I am saying we are going to have to take an active role in trying to shape events in Syria and Iraq and indeed across the region," he said.
In Iraq's case, that action had to be immediate, he added, saying the selective use of air power was one option.