British Prime Minister Tony Blair has paid special tribute to the six royal military police soldiers who were killed Tuesday in southern Iraq, and he says the strength of the British presence in the country is under scrutiny.
In the wake of the deaths, the prime minister says, an urgent review is underway to examine British troop numbers, tactics, and equipment.
During Question Time in the House of Commons, Mr. Blair said the soldiers who died were doing an extraordinary and heroic job.
The British leader dismissed talk among some in his own ruling Labor Party that the violence should signal the start of the withdrawal of UK forces from Iraq.
"Even at this moment in time, it is particularly important that we make sure that we redouble our efforts to bring stability to that country because that is the surest way of bringing stability to the rest of the world," the prime minister said. British force strength is now down to 14,000 in the theater, compared to 46,000 at the height of the war. But Mr. Blair hinted that thousands of extra troops could be sent back to Iraq if deemed to be necessary.
"I spoke to the chief of defense staff early this morning, who says to me that the local commanders believe they have sufficient troops on the ground at the present time but should they require more troops of course we will make sure that those troops are available," he said.
Asked about his exit strategy, the prime minister leader was vague, owing, as he said, to all the work, which still had to be done in Iraq.
"There are real problems, but there are also real improvements and certainly so far as public services are concerned and the reopening of hospitals, the oil refineries, the schools, progress is being made," he said. "But it is a job, literally, of rebuilding a country, and it will take time. But I think it is necessary to take the time to get the job done."
But the pressure on Mr. Blair will not be going away. With two parliamentary inquiries examining Britain's entry into the war, critics here continue to question why the country entered the conflict in the first place, and why British troops remain there now.