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By Olivier Knox
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Yahoo News on Monday that a ruthless al-Qaida offshoot that just declared an Islamic state carved out of Syria and Iraq can still be “forced back” and ultimately defeated.
“They won’t be successful in the end, because the people in the Middle East don’t want it,” he warned in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News Global Anchor Katie Couric.
The situation in Iraq is “not hopeless but it is urgent,” declared Blair, who said targeted strikes, potentially with drones, could help beat back the Islamist insurgency.
In a wide-ranging back-and-forth, the former prime minister said President Barack Obama was “doing the right thing” by backing Iraq’s fragile military, declared that Hillary Clinton did “a great job as secretary of state,” condemned the “heinous” and “wicked” murder of three abducted Israeli teens, and warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki needs to abandon his divisive style of government. Blair also dismissed calls for him to apologize for backing the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“These people pursue me everywhere,” he said of those who brand him a war criminal for backing then-President George Bush’s call for using force to topple Saddam Hussein.
Much of the question-and-answer session focused on bloody chaos in Syria and Iraq. Blair said ISIL extremists dreamed of turning the clock back to “the height of Islam’s power” many centuries ago and predicted “it’s never going happen.”
Still, “what they can do is they can destabilize countries,” he told Couric.
Asked whether ISIL’s declaration of a caliphate might be the most significant extremist act since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Blair replied: “It could be.”
“But I also think it’s possible that they could be forced back,” he said.
Asked about Obama's decision to step up training and arming so-called moderate Syrian rebels fighting to oust strongman Bashar Assad, Blair said it was "still worth doing."
Blair echoed Obama's criticisms of Maliki's Shiite-dominated government, which has alienated the country's Sunni minority. Asked whether the embattled Maliki should step down, Blair said either "he changes or he can't lead Iraq to a viable future."
"I'm hesitant to call for his removal," Blair said. But "there is a huge desire to get a government that is genuinely united." A Shiite-Sunni government might be "a government that could govern."
That would have a “transformative” effect on the conflict, he said.