British officials say the Iraq war is going well despite a string of incidents that have left 18 British servicemen killed or missing. Prime Minister Tony Blair can expect questions about the casualties when he appears in parliament Monday.
British defense officials are playing down the impact of the accidents and battlefield incidents that have beset the British and American forces in the first four days of the war.
Sixteen British servicemen had died through Sunday in two helicopter crashes and the accidental shoot-down of a British jet by an American missile. Two British soldiers went missing in action Sunday.
Junior Defense Minister Louis Moonie told British radio Monday the overall battle plan is proceeding as it was designed. "Every death of one of our people is a tragedy for their families and a tragedy and great sorrow for all of us. But it is important to put them into the context against the overall picture. They are not setbacks," he said. "They are the sad inevitability of what we are doing. But the fact is that the main line [plan] remains on course and that's what we have to proceed with."
Mr. Moonie also said he sees no reason to increase the number of British and American forces spearheading the invasion. "I think if that were necessary then clearly it would have to be done," he said. "There is no thought at present that it is necessary. The role of our forces always was to smash forward towards Baghdad as quickly as possible. We want to remove this regime with the minimum disruption to the country and people of Iraq."
Prime Minister Blair was preparing for tough questions in parliament later Monday about the British casualties and war strategy. It will be his first appearance there since the fighting started. Parliament voted last week by a three-to-one margin to approve Mr. Blair's war plan. But he still faces significant opposition within his own Labor Party over the war.