Bush and Blair admit mistakes in Iraq

Tony Blair and George Bush have admitted they made “mistakes” in Iraq but have called on the international community to support the new Baghdad government.

In a press conference in Washington last night, the British prime minister and US president reaffirmed their commitment to establishing democracy in Iraq, and called on the rest of the world to join them.

But they admitted that everything had not gone well since coalition forces deposed Saddam Hussein in 2003, both because of their own “missteps” and the strength of the insurgency.

Mr Bush admitted that saying “bring it on” had perhaps “sent the wrong signal to people”, and said he had since learned to express himself “in a little more sophisticated manner”.

He also admitted that the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal was the “biggest mistake that’s happened so far”, adding: “We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time.”

Mr Blair, for his part, said the process of de-Baathification could have been better managed, although he noted that the largest challenge was the scale of the opposition to coalition forces.

“I think that the most difficult thing has been the determination of people to move against the democratic process in Iraq in a way that.indicated our opponents’ very clear view from an early stage,” he said.

The prime minister added: “Maybe in retrospect, when we look back, it should have been very obvious to us.You know, they can’t afford to have these countries turn around.”

Despite these mistakes, however, Mr Bush insisted that “the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was right” and said it was now up to the international community to support democracy in Iraq.

Neither he nor Mr Blair would give a timetable for when coalition forces would leave Iraq, only repeating their insistence that it depended on conditions on the ground.

One of these was the establishment of a democratic government, they said, and the key issue was now to support new Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in restoring security to the country.

“If the idea became implanted in the minds of the people in the Arab and Muslim world that democracy was as much their right as our right, where do these terrorists go?” Mr Blair asked.

“These people who are fighting us there know what is at stake. The question is, do we?”