Fri, Sep 23, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Opposition leader: Troops are `occupiers, not liberators'

AFP AND DPA , LONDON

Britain's opposition Liberal Party yesterday accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of "being in denial" about the reality of the situation in Iraq and called for British "troops to come home."

Speaking on the closing day of the Liberals' annual party conference, leader Charles Kennedy said Britain's military presence in Iraq had become "part of the problem."

The Prime Minister was allowing his "blind support" for US President George W. Bush to stand in the way of troop withdrawal, said Kennedy.

The anti-British protests in Basra this week had shown that most Iraqis viewed the UK and American troops as "occupiers, not liberators."

Kennedy, whose party opposed the war from the outset, asked: "When can our troops come home"?

However hard Blair's government "tried to move on" from the Iraq issue, it could not do so as long as people were dying every day and British troops were in the firing line, said Kennedy.

Former conservative Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind was reported yesterday as saying that Iraq was "a bigger foreign policy disaster than the Suez crisis and Vietnam."

Iraq was the "most serious foreign policy disaster for the UK in 60 years," said Rifkind. "Suez, in comparison, was pretty modest."

In an attack on Blair's efforts to neutralize criticism of his conduct over Iraq, Kennedy charges: "However hard this government tries, it cannot move on."

"You cannot move on when the Prime Minister remains in denial. You can't move on when people are dying every day. And you cannot move on when our British troops are still there in the firing line. The government must confront the fact that the presence of British and American troops in Iraq are a part of the problem," he said.

"After this week's events in Basra, we cannot sustain the myth that Iraqis see coalition troops as liberators. What they see is an occupation."

Kennedy will call on the government to lay out before parliament a clear exit strategy for the phased withdrawal of British forces from Iraq. And he will say that "real efforts" must be made to find other countries "untainted by support for this disastrous war" who can send troops to help the Iraqi authorities with security.

The Liberal Democrats, the third largest party after the opposition Conservatives and governing Labour Party, are the only major British political party to have opposed the decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

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