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Blair: Coalition Forces Bearing Down on Baghdad - 2003-03-25

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will travel to the United States Wednesday to discuss the Iraq war with his American counterpart, President George W. Bush. Mr. Blair said the war is progressing as planned.

Mr. Blair said coalition forces led by the U.S. Army and Marines are bearing down on Baghdad in a two-pronged advance aimed at toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"The purpose is to remove the regime. To do that is important that we go to Baghdad," stressed the British leader. "Coalition forces are now some 50-60 miles [80-95 kilometers] south of Baghdad. All the way through, the important thing has been to push on for Baghdad, having secured both the oil installations in the south and making sure that in the west of the country, we do not allow Saddam to use that as a base for external aggression, and in the north we keep the situation as calm as possible."

The prime minister also said he understands why Iraq's civilian population has not poured out to greet the British and American forces as liberators in southern regions now under coalition control.

"They have been let down before when they thought coalition forces were going to remove Saddam. And my message to them today is that this time we will not let you down. Saddam and his regime will be removed. Iraq will have a better future ahead of it," Mr. Blair said.

Mr. Blair also announced that he will visit President Bush on Wednesday and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday to discuss the war and post-war challenges. "I will see President Bush at Camp David to discuss not just the military campaign, but also the diplomatic implications of recent events for the future, in particular, how we get America and Europe working again together as partners and not as rivals. I am clear that the United Nations must be centrally involved in dealing both with the humanitarian crisis and in helping Iraq rebuild itself once Saddam is gone," he explained.

France and Russia, which blocked United Nations support for the Iraq war, say they will oppose U.N. endorsement of any American-led transitional authority over Iraq once the fighting ends.