Blair to meet Iraqi deputy PM amid handover debate

Blair to meet Iraqi deputy PM amid handover debate
October 23rd, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Blair to meet Iraqi deputy PM amid handover debate

Blair to meet Iraqi deputy PM amid handover debate
Media: AFP
Byline: Katherine Haddon
Date: 23 October 2006


LONDON, Oct 23, 2006 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair will meet
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh Monday as debate grows over US and
British strategy in the troubled country, where violence is escalating.

The Guardian newspaper reported that Blair would pressure Saleh to show his
country's security forces would be ready to take over from Britain's army
in the southern provinces of Iraq within a year.

But Blair's office denied there would be any talk of an exit strategy, with
a spokesman adding: "They're going to talk about the situation in Iraq and
the process of building up Iraqi security forces."

In a BBC radio interview, Saleh cautioned against "panic" in the debate on
Iraq and spoke of the need for an "enduring partnership" with the United
States and Britain.

"I'm obviously concerned about the debate both in the United States and in
Europe, I have to say, because there is too much of the pessimistic tone to
this debate, even I would say in certain circles a defeatist tone," he

He said that while reliance on the US-led coalition would lessen as Iraqi
troops take over, "we are not immune from the cross-currents of the region,
we will need an enduring partnership with our friends in the United States
and the United Kingdom."

The Guardian also reported that during the meeting, Blair is likely to seek
a private assessment of whether the Iraqi government could do more to boost
its security forces.

Saleh will also also meet Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and
International Development Secretary Hilary Benn.

The meetings come after US President George W. Bush met top advisors and
generals Saturday as reports suggested he was increasing the pressure on
Baghdad to control the violence and that the United States could adjust its
strategy if there was no improvement.

Former US secretary of state James Baker is leading a review of the
situation by a bipartisan committee of experts and is expected to recommend
a change in US policy for rebuilding Iraq.

About 85 US troops have been killed in Iraq so far in October and, if
deaths continue at the same rate, it will be the bloodiest month for the US
military since November 2004.

Saleh admitted the last month was "exceptionally tough and difficult" but
disagreed with comments earlier this month by British army chief Sir
Richard Dannatt that British troops should leave Iraq "sometime soon"
because they were exacerbating security problems.

On Sunday, British junior foreign minister Kim Howells said Iraqi police
and soldiers would be able to take over from coalition troops within a

And former British ambassador to the United Nations Sir Jeremy Greenstock
told Sky News television: "There are only bad options for the coalition
from now on".

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