Iraq war had Blair 'depressed' and wanting to quit

LONDON: Tony Blair was so depressed after the Iraq war that the then British premier told Gordon Brown he would quit the following summer, only to renege on his pledge, a newspaper reported today.

The physical and mental stress on Blair was so profound that he confided to friends he “spaced out” several times during his weekly session of parliamentary questions, according to a new book serialised in The Observer.

“The End of the Party”, by political journalist Andrew Rawnsley, claims Blair was haunted by the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq, coupled with the constant pressure from Brown, the then finance minister, to step aside.

Rawnsley claims Blair was able to hide his depression from the public and most of his staff, but privately he decided to bow to Brown’s wishes and hand over to him midway through his second term. But Blair, who was US president George W Bush’s staunchest ally in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, went on to lead his Labour Party to victory in the 2005 general election and only stood down as prime minister two years later.

The book says Blair made clear at a dinner with both Brown and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in November 2003, and later in a telephone call to Prescott in spring 2004, that he would step aside. Sally Morgan, Blair’s director of government relations, told Rawnsley: “Iraq was a quicksand swallowing him up. The atrocities. Those terrible photos (of abuse of prisoners at the US-run Abu Ghraib jail).

The book relates how Blair’s special envoy in Iraq Jeremy Greenstock, briefed Blair at the end of his service.

It claims that when Greenstock warned Blair that the situation looked “unbelievably bad” and would become more desperate in the months to come, Blair pleaded: “What can we do?” He is said to have asked: “We have told them (the Americans) what we think is necessary. If it doesn’t happen, what can we do?”

But Blair then apparently regained his self-belief and decided to fight on, to the immense anger of Brown.