Blair Lauds British Troops During Iraq Visit

By Donna Miles

British Prime Minister Tony Blair visits coalition forces Jan. 4 at Zubayr, Iraq, where British Army Royal Military Police and 24 civilian police officers from across Britain are training Iraqi police.

Photo by Paul A’Barrow, British Royal Navy

British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the work the British armed forces are carrying out in Iraq during a Jan. 4 visit to the region, thanking them for their role in "a noble and a good cause."

Blair flew into Iraq by military aircraft from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where he was vacationing with his family, according to British embassy officials in Washington.

During the six-hour visit, the prime minister watched Iraqi police officers conduct self-defense training at a new police academy in the town of Zubayr. He also met with military police from Britain, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Italy. In Basra, he met with Judge Wael Abdullatif, the governor, at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, now a base for Britain’s 20th Armored Brigade.

Later in the trip, officials said, Blair met with Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III , coalition administrator, and his deputy, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s top diplomat in Iraq.

But a highlight of the trip was Blair’s visit with members of the British military.

He extended "a huge thank you," calling the troops "new pioneers of soldiering in the 21st century" because of the new type of threat they are confronting.

"The threat that our country faces from other countries around the world is not the one that certainly my generation grew up with," Blair said, referring to "the prospect of a big world war where countries are fighting each other."

Rather, he said, the coalition in Iraq is working to overcome the chaos that comes from terrorism and the threats posed by brutal and repressive states developing weapons of mass destruction.

Blair stressed the importance of the mission in Iraq in confronting both these threats.

Blair said Iraq’s former regime had a "proven record of the use of weapons of mass destruction — not just their development," and that the regime was "so abhorrent that … literally hundreds of thousands of its citizens died in prison camps, in the ways of torture and repression."

The prime minister told the troops that if the coalition "had backed away from that, we would never have been able to confront this threat in the other countries where it exists."

Just as important as winning the conflict in Iraq, which he said the coalition did "brilliantly," is what Blair called "the other part of 21st-century soldiering" — winning the peace.

"Your soldiering has got not just to be about fighting and being able to engage in combat, and to win that combat and win it well," he said, "but it is also to win the peace, … to win the hearts and minds of people."

Blair said the challenge for the coalition is "to show by the way that we try and help this country (get) on its feet as a stable and prosperous democracy … that there is a better way forward for Iraq."

This better way, he said, is to show that "countries like this whose people have never enjoyed the freedoms we have taken for granted, actually can exist side by side with each other, with democracy, with the rule of law, with basic canons of respect for other people and respect for themselves."

He told that troops that "Iraq today is taking shape under your help and with your guidance in a way that would have been unthinkable a year ago. What the Iraqi people want is prosperity, they want security, they want to bring up their families in some peace and decent way of living, and that is what we are trying to … help them (achieve)," he said.

Today, he told the troops, these people "have some hope and some prospect of a future, thanks to you."

It’s a cause, he acknowledged, that he believes in deeply.

"You know how passionately I believed in this cause and in the wisdom of the conflict as the only way to establish long-term peace and stability," Blair said.

Blair thanked the British troops for their important role in the coalition.

"I know that this a multinational effort, and I know that you have been working hard with the Americans … our principal allies, but also with the scores of other countries that are here now helping us in Iraq," he said. "But I wanted to say a special word of thanks to you."

Blair said history will reflect positively on the important work the coalition is undertaking in Iraq.

"I would like you to know that part of the pride that people feel in you is the knowledge that in years to come, people here in this country, and I believe around the world, will look back on what you have done and give thanks and recognize that they owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude," he said.