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Blair Expresses Condolences to Italians, Blames Saddam Loyalists - 2003-11-12

Britain has expressed condolences over the deaths of 16 Italians killed in the bombing of the Italian police headquarters in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of the incident at the start of his weekly Question Time in parliament.

"I am sure the whole House would want to join with me in expressing our deep condolences to the Italian government and the Italian people, and the families of those people who have been tragically murdered in the latest terrorist attack in southern Iraq," said Mr. Blair.

Mr. Blair also condemned Sunday's bombing in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, which killed five children and 12 adults, most of them Arabs. He said the two attacks show "how very real and alive the terrorist threat is."

The leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, laid out a series of concerns he has about the situation in Iraq.

"The administration of that country is clearly in a state of crisis," he said. "The attacks on allied troops have escalated dramatically. The Red Cross has been forced to scale down its presence. And now the American administrator has been recalled to Washington for urgent talks. Now, as we are the leading partner with the Americans in this situation, what input is the British government having to those talks?"

Mr. Blair blamed the violence on terrorists and loyalists of the deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and he said Mr. Kennedy is wrong if he wants a quick exit from Iraq.

"The implication is that because Iraq is difficult, we should somehow get out and withdraw from the position we are in," he said. "Well I have to say to him I think that is the worst thing we could possibly do. We have got to stick with this and see it through."

In another development, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says Iraqis could regain political control of their country more quickly than had been planned.

Mr. Straw told British radio Afghanistan is being considered as a model of how to transfer political power from the occupation authority to a local government.

The United States has said it wants a constitution and an elected government in place in Iraq before it will hand over full authority. But some coalition officials have expressed disappointment with the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council's performance as it faces a December 15 deadline to produce a plan for the United Nations on drafting a constitution and holding elections.

In Afghanistan, tribal leaders selected an interim president last year. A new constitution has just been drafted and national elections are scheduled for next June.

Mr. Straw spoke shortly before leaving London for Washington for talks on Iraq, and to help prepare for President Bush's state visit to Britain next week.