Fri, Dec 23, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Blair hits Basra, talks up Iraq mission

AFP , BASRA, IRAQ

British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted the goal of a stable Iraq was worth fighting for as he made a surprise trip yesterday to meet his troops and hold talks about the future of the war-torn country.

"If Iraq does stabilize, the region, the whole world and our country will be more safe because international terrorism will be dealt a huge body blow," he told British troops in the southern city of Basra. "It is up to us to try and help this country become the democracy that people want it to be."

"The only way of doing this is to provide security so the Iraqi security forces -- the police and army -- can build up, and then of course we can eventually draw down our own capability," he said.

It was Blair's fourth visit since the March 2003 US-led invasion, and as usual a total media blackout was imposed ahead of his arrival for security reasons.

Blair held round-table talks with General George Casey, the top US military commander in Iraq, and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as senior British diplomatic and military figures on security, politics and the presence of foreign troops, his official spokesman said.

Away from politics, Blair's top priority on the trip is to say thank you to Britain's 8,000 troops deployed largely in Iraq's four southern provinces for serving away from home, especially over Christmas.

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