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Attack on Karzai Raises Concern in Britain - 2002-09-06

The assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai has triggered alarm in Britain. One senior politician says it raises questions about attacking Iraq while there is so much instability in Afghanistan.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has expressed his shock at the attempt to kill the Afghan leader. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw calls it a wholly senseless attack.

Thursday's violence, which included a car bombing that killed up to 30 people in Kabul, has set off jitters in London about the fragility of the Karzai government.

Afghan leaders are blaming the attacks on remnants of the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taleban militia that ruled Afghanistan until the American-led military campaign there last year.

Hamid Karzai came to power as interim leader of Afghanistan in January and in June was named the head of an 18-month transitional government appointed by a grand council of Afghan leaders.

The foreign affairs spokesman of Britain's opposition Liberal Democrat party, Mingus Campbell, told British radio Friday that the West is counting on Mr. Karzai to consolidate his rule.

"We have a great deal riding on the success of Mr. Karzai," Mr. Campbell said. "If for any reason he were to be out of the picture, then the substantial achievements which have been made in Afghanistan might well simply disappear."

Mr. Campbell says the slow trickle of Western reconstruction aid to Afghanistan is only making the security situation worse.

"It's sort of a vicious circle because until there is stability, then not much of that money will be made available, but until that money is made available, then people have no incentive to get back to what you and I would consider normal life," he said.

Mr. Campbell also says that as long as there is so much work to do in Afghanistan, it could be unwise to open a second military front in Iraq.

He spoke as Prime Minister Blair prepared for talks in the United States Saturday with President Bush on what to do about Iraq's weapons program.

On the eve of that trip, British television aired segments of an interview in which Mr. Blair affirms that Britain is prepared to shed blood in support of the United States.

"At that moment of crisis, they don't need to know that you're giving general expressions of support and sympathy, and that's easy, frankly," the prime minister said. "They need to know that you are prepared to commit. You're prepared to be there. And when the shooting starts you're prepared to be there."

At the same time, British radio released a survey of 100 lawmakers from Mr. Blair's Labor party. Eighty-eight of them said there is not sufficient evidence to go to war against Iraq.