View Full Version : Blair Visits Iraq, Praises British Troops

05-30-03, 08:15 AM
May 29, 4:25 PM EDT

Blair Visits Iraq, Praises British Troops

Associated Press Writer

BASRA, Iraq (AP) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who gambled his political fortunes on President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, praised his troops Thursday for winning a war and imposing a responsible peace.

The first foreign leader to visit postwar Iraq, his graying hair tousled by a furnace-like desert breeze, went to a school, a police station and a military compound, where he addressed about 400 of his troops.

"You fought the battle, you won the battle, and you fought it with great courage and valor," Blair told the soldiers in Basra. "But it didn't stop there. You then went on to try to make something of the country you had liberated. And I think that's a lesson for armed forces everywhere, the world over."

Britain has handled the southeast corner of Iraq; the United States has occupied the rest. That includes the capital, Baghdad, where banditry, looting and attacks on U.S. forces have lingered in the vacuum created by the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Some observers credit Britain's people-friendly methods of mingling with residents for the relatively stability in Basra. But British diplomats concede southern Iraq is predominantly home to Shiite Muslims who were violently suppressed by Saddam for decades.

Britain's special representative in Iraq, John Sawers, who met with Blair along with L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, acknowledged that Baghdad has a crime wave "that is most difficult to get on top of."

Basra, however, appears to have made the "remarkable" strides that Blair praised.

Iraq's second-largest city was the first major urban area to fall during the war, the first to descend into looting and anarchy - and the first to take on a veneer of normalcy.

Shops are stocked with everything from skinned goats to software, electronics equipment, pharmaceuticals and a cornucopia of produce. Brilliantly lit boulevards are packed with people well after nightfall, and a highly visible police force nabs criminals and controls congested intersections.

Yet electricity is rationed and prices for necessities have ballooned. The school that Blair visited draws only half its prewar attendance, and the teachers remain unpaid, said Khalidi al-Shawi, a former headmistress.

"A lot of the students live far away, and the buses aren't running," she said. "Some parents are keeping their children at home because they believe this year will not count as a full academic year because of the war."

The prime minister flew into Kuwait on Wednesday and spent about half of Thursday in southern Iraq. Blair, sporting a white, open-collared shirt and blue chinos, got a wild reception from middle school students delighted by the attention.

"I think you have done a magnificent job," Blair told pupils and teachers, speaking through an interpreter in a school courtyard. "I think you can be so proud of what you have achieved here."

Mohammad Ade Mohammad, a fan of disco and soccer star Ronaldo who wants to be a doctor, was overjoyed. "He and Bush liberated us from that criminal Saddam, that son of a criminal," he said. Any insult preceded by "son of" is serious stuff in Iraq.

As for Blair, the 14-year-old said: "He told us to become heroes. He told us to stay in school. We're happy that he has come a long way and that he loves children."

Blair's praise for his troops was unequivocal.

"This wasn't the pretend stuff that happens in films. It was real war, with real bloodshed and real casualties," Blair told about 400 members of 7 Armored Brigade, the "Desert Rats."

"And there were people you will have known that aren't going back home," he said. "And we grieve for them, and we pay respect to them for everything they did and the sacrifice that they made."



05-30-03, 10:09 PM
it would have been good if tony had visited the troops who did the fighting. As all the war fighters had been pulled out a couple of week before his visit. and only a small amount of troops left there were involved in the conflict.

at least it was good press for him.