Forget Blair! The soldiers matter

Tony Blair’s journey? I just care about the soldiers

I don’t care if Tony Blair’s donation is genuine or spin. I’ve served in Iraq – and British soldiers need all the help they can get

Tony Blair Meets With British Troops in Basra 2006 Tony Blair meets with British soldiers on duty in Basra in 2006. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty ImagesSo Tony Blair’s book, A Journey, will be making money for the Royal British Legion. Here’s a bit of my journey:

I was one of the British soldiers who went to the Iraq war in 2003. We went because Blair said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and told the world how easily Saddam Hussein could attack the UK. We soldiers didn’t believe it and didn’t know why we were going, but we went willingly. We weren’t some scared flock forced onto a plane, we were the best army in the world, but this felt different.

From the UK to Kuwait and into Iraq, the main conversation revolved around what we were doing there. The debate raged around the world, me and my friends were the boots on the ground. Blair said: “Yes, there are consequences of war. If we remove Saddam by force, people will die and some will be innocent. And we must live with the consequences of our actions, even the unintended ones.”

Well, people did die and I came back from Iraq a different person. It couldn’t fail to change people. I lost my friends and my religion. A few years later I saw myself in Iraq again, from late 2006 into early 2007. Things had worsened. The Iraqis were angry and rightly so. We hadn’t done enough for them and they wanted to know why. We stayed mainly inside the bases and were mortared constantly.

I left the army soon afterwards, looking for a new future, and met some people from Stop the War. I decided to engage with them and get their point of view. I wanted answers and they wanted Blair to pay for what they called war crimes. This made for some very interesting conversations and I could see their point of view. There were no WMDs and little intelligence to support the theory that they existed.

In January 2010, Blair gave his version of events to the Iraq inquiry. I watched the whole thing with interest, but the end with disgust. Sir John Chilcot asked Blair if he had any regrets. After initially dodging the question, Blair answered with a confident “No”. In the audience were families who had lost their children in the wars. I was astounded by Blair’s arrogance. Given the most public platform since he left office and a perfect opportunity to show some respect, he decided not to.

This year has deepened my relationship with the military, especially ABF, The Soldiers’ Charity, which – along with the Royal Engineers – helped change my life. Through it I met Ben Parkinson, Andy Reid and other soldiers who suffered horrific injuries in the wars. These soldiers may very well benefit from Blair’s money. I don’t think we need to forgive, forget or become friends, but we do need to be realistic. These soldiers need help so, wherever it comes from, it’s welcome.

I have heard people say if Blair was being genuine he could have donated anonymously and out of the public eye. I don’t care if this is genuine or more spin – what I do care about is helping soldiers. I’m running the London Marathon for The Soldiers’ Charity in 2011, and will be helping military charities throughout my future career. I won’t be buying Blair’s book though.

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