No regrets, Blair tells Iraq in final visit

blair.jpgBASRA (Reuters) — Britain’s Tony Blair, on his last visit to Iraq as prime minister, said on Saturday he had no regrets about his part in the US-led invasion that removed Saddam Hussein. On a farewell trip to a country whose future may define his legacy after a decade in power, Blair met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and President Jalal Talabani and discussed the situation in Iraq, which is beset by sectarian violence. “I have no regrets about removing Saddam, no,” Blair told a joint news conference with Maliki and Talabani after their talks about how to bring about greater political reconciliation.

“The future of Iraq should be determined by Iraqis in accordance with their wishes and it is important that all the neighbouring countries understand and respect that,” he said.

Ambassadors from Iran and the United States will meet in Iraq on May 28 to discuss security in the country, a rare meeting between the bitter rivals. Blair said there was strategic benefit in a stable Iraq for all involved. “We know it is important to work with Iran but Iran has to understand it cannot support terrorism and want to work with us at the same time,” he said.

Blair later flew to the southern city of Basra and said the world needed a stable Middle East. “If we don’t sort this region out, then there is, in my view, a very troubled and difficult future for the world ahead of us,” he said. Two rounds of either mortars or rockets landed while he chatted with some of the thousands of British troops stationed in Basra, witnesses said.

Earlier a mortar round had also landed in the heavily fortified Green Zone as Blair arrived in Baghdad, part of a pattern of daily bombardments.

Blair’s decision to join US President George W. Bush and send British troops to topple Saddam in 2003 despite huge opposition at home was the defining moment of his rule.

Speaking on the BBC, former US president Jimmy Carter said Blair could have exerted greater influence over Bush and his government had shown “subservience” towards the White House over Iraq and other foreign policy areas.

Lingering resentment from the public and within the ruling Labour Party over Blair’s steadfast support for Bush and the war ultimately forced him to cut short his third term. He will quit on June 27 and Finance Minister Gordon Brown will take over.

Four years after the invasion, US and British forces face daily attacks from insurgents, sectarian violence is undermining the state and officials within and outside Maliki’s coalition admit stabilising Iraq is almost impossible.

The US military said that five soldiers had been killed in four separate incidents on Friday and Saturday.

In volatile Diyala province, gunmen dressed in Iraqi security forces uniforms killed 13 people in the small village of Qara Lous, about 100km northeast of Baghdad near the Iranian border, a local government official said.

Coherent plan

Blair believes there have been positive political developments and wanted to discuss a coherent plan with Maliki to see faster progress.

Maliki’s government is under pressure to meet political benchmarks, which include a revenue-sharing oil law, a law that would allow former members of Saddam’s party to hold public office and constitutional reform, to speed up reconciliation.

“Iraq cannot go back to the past and the political process moves forward… the truth must be imposed,” Maliki said.

For now, Blair’s legacy remains tarnished by Iraq — despite successes in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Sierra Leone — particularly the perception that he took Britain to war over a lie that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

British forces initially seemed to have done well in Basra, a relatively peaceful and predominantly Shiite southern city.

But security there has deteriorated as rival Shiite groups battle for control of the vast oil wealth in Iraq’s richest city and gateway to the Gulf.

April 2007 was the deadliest month since the invasion for Britain, which is cutting its force to 5,500 from 7,000 and drawing back most of its troops to the international airport. 

Sunday, May 20, 2007

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