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Aug 31, 2010 10:23 PM by Alison Haynes

Blair memoir excites booksellers, riles critics

LONDON (AP) - It's a political memoir with celebrity trappings -
secrecy, security, a multimillion-dollar deal and, crucially,
controversy.
Tony Blair's "A Journey" was stirring political passions even
before it hits bookstores Wednesday, with excerpts revealing that
the former British prime minister has cried for soldiers um,
civilians killed in Iraq, but still thinks it was right to invade
and topple Saddam Hussein.
The decision to go to war remains Blair's most divisive legacy.
In excerpts from the book released by the publisher late Tuesday,
Blair says "I ... regret with every fiber of my being the loss of
those who died."
"Tears, though there have been many, do not encompass it," he
says.
But, he says, "on the basis of what we do know now, I still
believe that leaving Saddam in power was a bigger risk to our
security than removing him and that, terrible though the aftermath
was, the reality of Saddam and his sons in charge of Iraq would at
least arguably be much worse."
"I can't regret the decision to go to war," he says.
Blair also reopens domestic political wounds, saying he found
his rival and successor Gordon Brown difficult and maddening.
British booksellers are reporting heavy interest in the book,
for wh St Blair was paid an estimated 4.6 million pounds ($7.5
million). He's donating the proceeds to a charity for injured
troops.
Billed by publisher Random House as a "frank, open" account of
life at the top, "A Journey" is being published in a dozen
countries, alongside an e-book and an audio version read by Blair
himself. It's in the top 10 on Amazon's British best-seller list -
though it's only 4,000 on the retailer's U.S. site.
"Initial sales will be huge," said Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles
book store chain. "But whether those sales are sustained will
depend on how frank and open it is."
Blair - who is scheduled to be in Washington on publication day,
attending Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in his role as an
international Mideast envoy - has said he "set out to write a book
which describes the human as much as the political dimensions of
life as prime minister."
"A Journey" promises to give readers behlko-the-curtain
insights into major world events from the death of Princess Diana
to the Sept. 11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq.
It is unlikely to resolve the conflicting views and emotions
Blair evokes.
For many Americans, he remains a well-regarded ally who stood
shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. in the fight against
international terrorism. He's scheduled to receive the 2010 Liberty
Medal from former President Bill Clinton in Philadelphia on Sept.
13.
At home, he is a more polarizing figure. Swept to power in 1997
on a wave of popular enthusiasm, Blair left office a decade later
reviled by many for taking Britain into the U.S.-led Iraq war, and
viewed as a liability by much of his own Labour Party.
"He began as a leader who was a friend of everyone, and he
finished as a friend of almost no one in Britain," said Blair
biographer Anthony Seldon.
Anti-war groups say they will picket Blair's book signingszil
Dublin on Saturday and in London on Sept. 8. Both are high-security
affairs at which book buyers will have to surrender their bags,
cameras and mobile phones - and are barred from asking for personal
dedications.
Blair, 57, stepped down in June 2007 after a decade that
included a historic peace accord in Northern Ireland, the deeply
unpopular war in Iraq and the continuing conflict in Afghanistan.
He was Labour's most successful leader for decades, moved the
left-leaning party toward the center and brought it back to power
after 18 years in opposition.
But when he left, after years of increasingly open hostility
with Brown, his party was divided.
In the book, Blair calls Brown "difficult, at times
maddening," but says "he was also strong, capable and
brilliant."
Brown, and Labour, lost power in an election in May, and Blair
does not exactly heap praise on his time in office.
"It is easy to say now, in the light of his tenure as prime
minister, that I should have stopped it; at the time that would
have been well nigh impossible," Blair writes.
Blair has been at the center of numerous books, notably "The
Blair Years," by former press secretary Alastair Campbell, and the
recently published memoir "The Third Man," by Labour insider
Peter Mandelson.
He was also the inspiration for the former prime minister dogged
by allegations of war crimes in Robert Harris' thriller "The
Ghost," which was turned into a film by Roman Polanski.
Seldon said most political memoirs are self-serving,
"historically pretty useless" and don't live up to the hype.
Blair insists his will be different, and Seldon says the former
politician is part of a small group whose words may have wide
appeal.
"Britain doesn't have many prime ministers who are
international figures," said Seldon. "We have had Churchill, we
have had Thatcher, we have had Blair."

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