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British PM Skips Parliament Iraq Debate


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has skipped the first government-led debate since 2004 on Britain's role in Iraq. However, ahead of Wednesday's parliamentary session, he called an opposition push to remove British troops from Iraq by October "deeply irresponsible."

Mr. Blair said a full withdrawal would send "the most disastrous" signal to terrorists. He said Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi had cautioned him against setting any timetable for a British withdrawal.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett opened the Iraq debate saying the government backed the U.S.-led coalition goal of ceding control of all 18 of Iraq's provinces to Iraqi authorities by the end of this year. She also said British forces could pull back from the area around the southern Iraqi city of Basra within months.

Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell, a staunch opponent of the war, chastised Mr. Blair for his absence.

He said the British public is entitled to hear the prime minister's analysis and strategy for withdrawal.

Mr. Blair has said he will address lawmakers on Iraq once the withdrawal from Basra is completed.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.