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Iraq is a 'disaster' admits Blair

Daily Mail | November 18, 2006
By TIM SHIPMAN

Tony Blair admitted that British intervention in Iraq has been a disaster last night - sending shockwaves through Westminster.

In his frankest admission about the war to date, Mr Blair admitted that Western forces have been powerless to stop the descent into violence.

The Prime Minister stopped short of accepting the blame for plunging Iraq to the brink of civil war - blaming instead the insurgent uprising that has killed 125 British troops.

But his admission in an interview with the Arab new channel Al Jazeera will be seen as an historic climbdown for Mr Blair, who has always fought to put a positive gloss on often disastrous events.

Challenged by veteran interviewer Sir David Frost that the Western invasion of Iraq has "so far been pretty much of a disaster", Mr Blair said: "It has."

His words were last night seen as an olive branch to other states in the Middle East and his critics at home.

But critics will be angered that Mr Blair still refused to take the blame for the failed planning for the aftermath of the war, which has seen rival Sunni and Shia Muslim militias take control of the streets.

The Prime Minister went on: "You see what I say to people is why is it difficult in Iraq? It's not difficult because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al Qaeda with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

Despite the violence engulfing Baghdad and British-controlled Basra, Mr Blair insisted that British troops were not ready to pull out.

"We are not walking away from Iraq," he said. "We will stay for as long as the government needs us to stay.

"And the reason for that is that what is happening in Iraq, as in Afghanistan, as elsewhere in parts of the Middle East, is a struggle between the decent majority of people, who want to live in peace together, and those who have an extreme and perverted and warped view of Islam, who want to create war.

"In those circumstances, our task has got to be to stand up for the moderates and the democrats against the extremists and the sectarians. They are testing our will at the moment, and our will has not to be found wanting."

In a chilling warning to those who want Britain to cut and run from the foreign adventures that have characterised Mr Blair's premiership he warned that Britain would be involved in the Middle East on a "generational" basis, though he stressed he did not expect British troops to remain in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan for a generation.

He said long-term diplomatic, economic and political efforts would be required to support and empower the forces of moderate Islam in the region against extremists with a "warped and perverted" version of the religion.

The Prime Minister used his interview to again offer a partnership with Iraq's neighbours Iran and Syria but warned that they are not yet doing enough to warrant a friendly relationship.

Asked whether his stance amounted to "appeasement", Mr Blair responded: "It is completely absurd to say that - on the contrary."

He added: "Let me make one thing absolutely clear, I do not intend any message other than absolute strength in relation to Iran. If, for example, Iran wants a different relationship with the USA or EU, with the West, then it has got to make sure it is abiding by its international obligations in respect to this nuclear weapons issue; it has got to stop supporting terrorism in the region; and it has got to reach out and help resolve the problems of the region, rather than be part of the problem in the region."

His message to Iran was: "If you reject the way forward that we are setting out, if instead of helping the region you support terrorism, you act in breach of your international obligations, then it is our part to stand up to you. On the other hand, if it is the case that you want to be part of a constructive solution in the Middle East, the door is open to you."

Mr Blair's frank admission comes a month after Britain's top general said that British troops should pull out of Iraq "soon" because their presence a "exacerbates the security problems".

Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, told the Daily Mail that Mr Blair's desire to forge a "liberal democracy" in Iraq was a "naive" failure and commented: "Whatever consent we may have had in the first place" from the Iraqi people "has largely turned to intolerance."

A series of reports have exposed the disatrous consequences of the Iraq war.

In addition to the British death toll of 125, nearly 5,000 British injured servicemen have been evacuated from the war zone. Some 2,865 Americans have been killed and more than 21,000 injured.

A report by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore last month claimed that 654,965 Iraqis have died over the last three years, with 200,000 deaths directly attribuatble to coalition forces.

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