Britain's Blair rejects calls for change of strategy in Iraq




 
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October 19th, 2006  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Britain's Blair rejects calls for change of strategy in Iraq


Media: The Associated Press
Byline: By BETH GARDINER
Date: 18 October 2006


LONDON_British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood firm Wednesday in the face of
mounting demands for a change of strategy in Iraq, where critics say London
and Washington's approach is failing badly.

Blair snapped back angrily at sharp attacks on the war from political
opponents, who cited remarks from the head of Britain's army and former U.S.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III to argue that a new plan is needed to
reverse a spiral of worsening violence in Iraq.

"The government strategy has failed," said Menzies Campbell, leader of
Britain's third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats. "And in those
circumstances the choices are stark _ change the strategy or else get out."

Blair rejected charges that Britain was failing in Iraq and defended his
approach, which he said was to defend moderates and the democratic
government, fight extremists and withdraw gradually as Iraqi troops become
ready to take on security responsibilities.

"I do not want to either dismay our allies or hearten our enemies by
suggesting we will do anything else other than stay until our job is done,"
he said during his weekly House of Commons question session.

"If we desert the Iraqi government now, at the very time when they are
building up their forces so that the Iraqi security forces can take up
security, it would be a gross dereliction of our duty," he said.

The Iraq war has been deeply unpopular among Britons from the beginning,
causing major political trouble for Blair and helping fuel a rebellion in
his Labour Party that forced him to announce last month that he will resign
within a year.

Blair has been on the defensive over comments last week by Gen. Richard
Dannatt, the head of the army, who said British forces should leave Iraq
soon because their presence provokes more violence than it prevents.

Dannatt later softened his remarks, saying he wanted a gradual pullout over
the next few years, but he did not back away from them entirely. Blair has
said there is no difference between Dannatt's position and his own, because
neither wants to leave Iraq before Britain's work there is done, but the
general's outspokenness has set off a political furor.

Also getting extensive coverage in Britain is Baker's promise that the
bipartisan commission on Iraq he is heading will recommend a change of
course when it reports after the U.S. midterm elections next month.

Baker, who has a long-standing reputation of caution and served former U.S.
presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, is one of a growing list of
prominent Republicans pressing President George W. Bush to reassess his
"stay the course" strategy in Iraq.

"Are these the only two people in the world who don't think the war in Iraq
is a disaster?" the anti-war Independent newspaper asked in a front-page
headline, beside photos of Blair and Bush. In smaller type, it said Baker
and Dannatt had joined a growing international consensus about the trouble
in Iraq.

Opposition Conservative Party leader David Cameron accused Blair of
misrepresenting the situation in Iraq.

"The picture on the ground is difficult and unstable, but the message being
given to the British people is quite different," he said. "When it comes to
our objectives in Iraq, to our troop numbers in Iraq and to the progress we
are making ... will (Blair) give a guarantee of frank, candid and honest
answers?"

Louise Heywood, a military expert at London's Royal United Services
Institute think tank, defended Blair and said Britain's strategy of training
Iraqi forces was working well. Despite increasing violence, southern Iraq,
where British troops are based, is still far more stable than the
U.S.-occupied zone in the center of the country, she said, and Iraqi forces
are almost ready to take over security duties from the British.

"I can't see how a change in strategy ... would benefit the Iraqis more than
what we're doing at the moment," she said.

Linking the trouble in Iraq to extremism at home, Blair said terrorists _
not British troops _ were responsible for civilian deaths in Iraq.

"The message that should go out from us and from this country ... (is that)
the policy of standing up and fighting these extremists abroad and at home
is the right one and there will be no quarter given to those who oppose us."
 


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