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Blair Visits Baghdad to Back New Government


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has visited Baghdad to lend his support to the newly installed national unity government. Mr. Blair says Iraq now is offered a new beginning that robs the insurgency of its cause for fighting.

Prime Minister Blair has made a surprise visit to Baghdad's Green Zone for talks with new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki.

At a joint news conference, Mr. Blair was asked if the war had been worth it, in light of the ongoing insurgency and sectarian violence.

"Iraq has a government elected by its people," he said. "Now, for all the difficulty caused by those of terrorism and bloodshed, who want to disrupt democracy, surely the great thing that has happened here is that, despite all the terrorism and violence, the people have spoken, they've elected the government. The government has a program. The government wants to deliver for its people."

Mr. Maliki says the violence has not, and will not, provoke a civil war.

"There is no civil war in Iraq," he said. "There are groups, gangs, that practice killing and terrorism, but there will never be a civil war in Iraq, because all the political powers, all the political entities have agreed to confront this possibility."

Mr. Blair was cautious when asked how quickly Iraqi troops can be trained and equipped to take over from the American-led coalition forces.

"We have got the Iraqi forces up to a strength of, I think, around about 250,000," he said. "They come up to their full strength at the end of this year. There is the notion of slowly being able to release individual provinces into the full control of Iraqi forces."

Mr. Maliki is more confident, predicting that, by the end of this year, Iraqis can take control of all provinces, except Baghdad and al-Anbar, where most of the killing continues.

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