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Blair: Iraq Coalition Will Build Democracy

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says coalition forces will not retreat from Iraq, and will remain until it is a true democracy. He spoke in an interview that aired Sunday on U.S. television.

Prime Minister Blair says the troops serving in Iraq are doing a difficult and dangerous job, and deserve thanks. He says the men and women who liberated Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein are now liberating the country from terrorism.

During an appearance on the NBC television program, Meet the Press, Mr. Blair stressed the coalition will remain in Iraq until its mission is complete. "The exit strategy is a democratic Iraq, and if that happens, the impact on the whole region and, therefore, on our security, America and Britain, will be enormous," he said.

In an interview recorded after his talks Friday with President Bush at the White House, Mr. Blair spoke at some length about public perceptions, on both sides of the Atlantic, of the situation in Iraq. He said people often forget that Iraq was not a stable country under Saddam Hussein. "There were thousands of people brutally killed. It was a country that within the last couple of decades started two major wars," he said.

His words aired Sunday, as coalition troops continued to battle scattered bands of insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

On the Fox News Sunday television program, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services committee, defended the operation against the insurgents, but said a long hard struggle lies ahead. "We had to do what we did in Fallujah. We never should have given [the insurgents] sanctuary to start with. We made a lot of mistakes early on in this conflict. But I think we are on the right track," he said.

Senator McCain said it might be possible to hold elections in Iraq without total participation by the Sunni minority, which is prevalent in the Fallujah area.

The top Democrat on the Armed Services panel voiced a different view. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan told CNN's Late Edition that, once the situation in Fallujah is under control, efforts must be made to get the Sunnis involved in the political process. "As brilliantly as our military has fought, we have not seen an equal adeptness on the part of this administration in planning for the aftermath of either the attack against Iraq or in Fallujah," he said.

Mr. Levin said, in addition to political steps, coalition forces must also speed the process of turning over security to newly trained Iraqi forces.