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Britain Cautions Iraq War Could Last For Some Time

Britain says the airstrikes in Baghdad are part of what will be an ongoing campaign to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon is cautioning that the war may last longer than many people expect.

The attack was what Mr. Hoon called "a shot across the bow" of the Iraqi leadership. The British defense secretary told parliament the prime target of the war is Saddam Hussein.

"Saddam Hussein's regime is the chief obstacle to the disarmament of Iraq," he said. "The military plan is therefore crafted around his removal from power."

But there was a word of caution in Mr. Hoon's speech, as he explained that the war could last for some time.

"We all certainly hope that offensive operations will be over quickly," he said. "But we should not underestimate the risks and difficulties we may face against a regime that is the embodiment of absolute ruthlessness with an utter disregard for human life."

In a separate development, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said at a news conference that the war will actually save lives by ending the suffering of the Iraqi people.

"War is unpleasant. War should only ever be a last resort," he said. "There will be innocent civilians killed in this military action. And we cannot resile from that or use euphemisms to cover up that reality. But what we say is that the number of Iraqi lives saved by this military action will far exceed the number of people who, sadly, will be killed."

Mr. Straw said Britain has set aside more than $165 million in humanitarian relief assistance for Iraq after the war.

As the officials spoke, Queen Elizabeth sent a message to the 45,000-strong British force in the Gulf. She wishes them a "swift and decisive" victory and says she will pray for their safe return.