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Blair Condemns Moqtada al-Sadr - 2004-04-06

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has condemned Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as a fanatic whose militia should be disbanded. Mr. Blair discussed the latest violence in Iraq with the country's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari. Mr. Blair has lashed out at the radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters have gone on a rampage of violence against coalition forces that has left scores of people dead this week.

Mr. Blair told a London news conference that Mr. al-Sadr is aligned with the anti-democratic elements that are behind most of the trouble in Iraq. "Now some people do not want democracy in Iraq," said Mr. Blair. "Some people want Saddam back, a tiny little minority. Some people are outside terrorists, pouring into Iraq in order to engage in the types of acts of terrorism they are actually trying to engage in elsewhere in the world. And then you have got this particular cleric who is an extremist and a fanatic who does not want what the majority of Shiias, never mind what the majority of Iraqis want, which is a democratic Iraq. So this [violence] is going to happen and our response to this should not be to run away in fright, or hide away or think that we've got it all wrong. Our response, on the contrary, should be to hold firm."

The Iraqi foreign minister, Mr. Zebari, said the violence will likely get worse as the June 30 deadline approaches for the coalition to hand sovereignty over to the Iraqi Governing Council. "As we get closer to that date, in fact, those challenges will increase, whether on the security front, whether by some fringe groups that want to challenge this order like Moqtada al-Sadr and so on," he said. "I think we here need to deal with these incidents firmly but also, our attitude is really to calm down tensions and to try to resolve this issue by whatever means in order not to derail the main process."

Mr. Zebari said the latest unrest does not mean Iraq is descending in chaos, and he said life for most Iraqis has gotten better one year after the fall of Saddam Hussein.