British Prime Minister Tony Blair has emphatically ruled out any quick exit of British forces from Iraq, saying Britain must help defend the Iraqis' quest for democracy. Mr. Blair addressed the issue in a speech to the annual conference of his Labor Party.
Mr. Blair has laid out a vigorous defense of his Iraq policy, which has stirred controversy inside and outside the ruling Labor Party as the Iraqi insurgency has grown.
He says Britain will not be deterred in defending Iraqis' intention to choose a freely elected government in December.
"The way to stop the innocent dying is not to retreat, to withdraw, to hand these people over to the mercy of religious fanatics, or relics of Saddam, but to stand up for their right to decide their government in the same democratic way the British people do," said Mr. Blair.
These were Mr. Blair's first extended comments on Iraq since an incident in the southern Iraqi city of Basra last week, when an angry mob firebombed and stoned British troops who were trying to release two colleagues who had been arrested by local police.
Mr. Blair again denounced the July 7 terrorist attacks in London, which killed 52 commuters and four British Muslim suicide bombers on the same day Britain hosted a meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.
"Just as they chose the day of the G8, when the world was trying to address the heartbreaking poverty of Africa, to kill innocent people in London, strip away their fake claims of grievance and see this for what it is," he added. "Terrorists who use 21st century technology to fight a pre-medieval religious war utterly alien to the future of humankind."
Mr. Blair's government announced a crackdown on Muslim extremism after the bombings, and, in his speech, he urged Britain's Muslim community to respect British customs and democracy.
"When people come to our country, they have and should have the full rights we believe in," he said. "There should be no second-class citizens in Britain. But citizenship comes with a duty: to give loyalty to our nation, it's values and our way of life. If people have a grievance, politics is the answer, not terror."
Mr. Blair, who led Labor to a historic third-term election victory in May, concentrated most of his speech on his domestic agenda. He has said he will not seek a fourth term, but he gave no clue as to when he will step down.
There is much speculation in Labor Party circles that Finance Minister Gordon Brown will eventually take over from Mr. Blair, and the Labor conference has been dominated by speculation about when that will happen.