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Blair Suggests British Public Should Prepare for Long Haul in Iraq - 2004-09-21

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's declaration that "a new Iraqi conflict" is under way has fueled controversy, and raised questions about whether more British troops will be sent to Iraq.

Prime Minister Blair's latest comments are widely seen as the first step toward preparing the British public for a long and difficult struggle in Iraq.

During a Sunday news conference with the visiting interim prime minister of Iraq, Iyad Allawi, Mr. Blair said Iraq had become a crucible for global terrorism, and the war had entered a new and distinct phase.

"In this new Iraqi conflict, whatever the disagreements about the removal of Saddam, there is only one side for sensible and decent people to be on in this conflict," he said.

The Guardian newspaper said Mr. Blair's words amounted to what the paper called "a stark re-labeling" of the Iraq war. The Mail newspaper called it an "astonishing admission," while the Daily Telegraph said Mr. Blair has changed tactics to convince Iraq invasion critics that the new conflict must be won.

A Middle East analyst at Oxford University, Alan George, says he fears Mr. Blair's remarks reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the roots of the Iraqi insurgency.

"These are not terrorists," he said. "This is a nationalist insurgency against an illegal foreign occupation of their country. So, to dismiss this as terrorism and part of the global war on terrorism is simply silly, in the end."

Britain's former chief of defense staff, Tim Garden, says security and reconstruction must go hand-in-hand, or the Iraqis will throw their support behind the insurgents.

"They've got to get on with rebuilding the infrastructure," he said. "And that may mean that you've got to do an awful lot more in terms of the security to make it possible. As it is, all the [foreign] workers are hunkering down, or leaving the country, and, of course, that means that most Iraqis are not seeing improvement in their daily life, which means they become more supportive of their local militias and the insurgents."

An Iraq expert in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Mark Kirk, told British radio, Prime Minister Blair is right to point out the challenges that lie ahead.

"I think the prime minister was exactly right to prepare the peoples of the West for a longer and difficult struggle, really a political struggle, well known to the British people that have closely watched an armed minority trying to shoot their way into power in Northern Ireland," he said.

Mr. Blair's comments came amid speculation that Britain will increase the size of its 8,000-member military contingent in Iraq, ahead of Iraqi elections planned for January.

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon says more troops may be sent, and Mr. Blair does not rule it out, saying troop levels are under constant review.

Even Britain's leading anti-war party, the Liberal Democrats, has suggested more troops may be needed during the Iraq election, though party leaders say Britain should pull out soon after the voting.