Prime Minister Tony Blair Thanks UK Armed Forces in Basra Surprise Visit

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair talks with military personal in Basra, southern Iraq, January 4, 2004.

Peter Macdiarmid / Reuters

Prime Minister Tony Blair has praised the work UK troops are carrying out in Iraq. On a surprise visit to Basra after vacationing in Egypt with his wife and four children.Mr. Blair said the world will owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

In Blair’s opening remarks to the troops he said, "It is a great honour for me to be here today and to say a few words to you, and really the first thing I want to say is a huge thank you for the work that you have done, and that reputation of the British Armed Forces I don’t think has ever been higher than it is today, or its prestige ever greater, and that is down to you and the work that you have done."

Read the Prime Minister’s address to troops in full below:

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Full Statement to the Troops


PRIME MINISTER: Good Afternoon everyone. It is a great honour for me to be here today and to say a few words to you, and really the first thing I want to say is a huge thank you for the work that you have done, and that reputation of the British Armed Forces I don’t think has ever been higher than it is today, or its prestige ever greater, and that is down to you and the work that you have done. And whatever people, and as you know there are a few different opinions about the wisdom of conflict, but whatever opinions people had of that, there is absolutely nobody – nobody – back home who has anything other than enormous pride in the British Armed Forces, and rightly so.

And I think there is one very good reason why your reputation and your prestige is so high, and I think that the British soldier, the British Armed Forces today, they are if you like the new pioneers of soldiering in the 21st century, because the threat that we face today, the threat that our country faces from other countries around the world, is not the one that certainly my generation grew up with, it is not the prospect of a big world war where countries are fighting each other, you can never discount that, but it is highly improbable, except I suppose in one set of circumstances, and those are the circumstances of chaos, and that chaos comes today from terrorism, from a particular virus of Islamic extremism that is a perversion of the true faith of Islam, but is nonetheless incredibly dangerous and which you see literally in every part of the world. And that is one part of the threat, and I don’t suppose there is a single country round the world at the moment that is not trying to guard against it.

But the other threats are brutal and repressive states who because of their brutality, because they don’t actually have the support or consent of their people, are developing weapons that can cause distraction and destruction on a massive scale and are a huge, huge liability for the whole security of the world.

And those two threats come together. Democracies don’t sponsor terrorism. No country that obeys the rule of law tortures and maims its citizens. No government that owes its position to the will of the people will spend billions of pounds on chemical, and biological and nuclear weapons whilst their people live in poverty. And these threats together produce chaos, because in the world in which we live, if there is chaos then the whole world system economically and politically breaks down.

And this conflict here was a conflict of enormous importance, because Iraq was the test case of that. Iraq was a country whose regime and proven record of the use of weapons of mass destruction, not just their development, and a regime so abhorrent that as you will now know better than you did before, literally hundreds of thousands of its citizens died in prison camps, in the ways of torture and repression. And if we had backed away from that, we would never have been able to confront this threat in the other countries where it exists.

And so the British soldier and the British Armed Forces in what you have done in winning the conflict in Iraq was immensely important.

But then there is the other part of 21st century soldiering, which is that you haven’t just to win the conflict, you have then got to win the peace, and that is difficult too. But there is one reason why I think we can be optimistic. It is not just that the interests of ourselves and the Iraqi people today are the same.

I have just visited the Police Training Camp and seen the Iraqi police officers try to get the basic rudiments of proper police training so that they can police their country properly so that people no longer fear the police but see them as their friends and supporters on the streets of Iraq. And 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 do.

And so we are trying to help them do it and your role there is of course of immense importance, and that is perhaps the single most important thing now, it is the greatest challenge we face, which is that 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, which you do brilliantly, but it is also to win the peace, it is to win the hearts and minds of people. It is to show by the way that we try and help this country on its feet as a stable and prosperous democracy, to show in the manner by which we do it, that there is a better way forward for Iraq, 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, and that work again you do brilliantly. And by nature and by instinct and by the intelligent use of the experience that you have had, Iraq today is taking shape under your help and with your guidance in a way that would have been unthinkable a year ago.

So of course I want to say to you, thank you for the work that you are doing, but I think that when you come to a far away country such as this and you spend many months, it is as well to know not merely that you are fighting because that is what you have been ordered to do, but that the work that you have been doing has been in a noble and a good cause, and it has. And there are people here – and I have just met some Iraqis, ordinary Iraqi people – who for decade upon decade knew nothing but the Secret Police, poverty, utter dependence on the state, fear, inability to make any difference to the country in which they lived, who today have some hope and some prospect of a future thanks to you.

So I know that this a multinational effort, and I know that you have been working hard with the Americans of course, our principal allies, but also with the scores of other countries that are here now helping us in Iraq. But I wanted to say a special word of thanks to you. I believe, 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, but 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 recognise that they owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude, and from the bottom of my heart I thank you very much indeed. Thanks.