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Blair Warns Against Expecting Quick Victory in Iraq - 2003-03-21


Britain has suffered its first fatalities in the war in Iraq, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair has paid tribute the bravery of the eight Royal Marines killed in a helicopter crash. Mr. Blair says the campaign is going well so far, but he warns against expecting a quick victory.

As Britain mourns the death of the royal marines, Mr. Blair offered condolences to the families. He said the men died in what appears to be helicopter accident that also killed four American servicemen.

"These were brave men who, in order to make us safer and more secure, knew the risks, faced the risks and had the courage to serve their country and the wider world," said Mr. Blair. "We owe them an immense debt of gratitude, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families."

Mr. Blair said as the invasion proceeds, cracks are emerging in the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but he cautioned against expectations of a quick victory.

"There are signs of continuing desertions and disagreement and division at all levels of the regime," said the prime minister, "but I should warn that our forces will face resistance and that the campaign necessarily will not achieve all its objectives overnight. It's important to emphasize that."

The prime minister spoke to reporters in Brussels, where he attended a European Union summit. He said Europe remains divided over the war, but there is agreement on the need to help Iraq with humanitarian relief if and when Saddam Hussein is toppled.

In a separate development, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told Parliament that Iraq has begun torching oil wells in southern Iraq.

"The Iraqi regime has set fire to a number of oil wells. Up to 30 oil wells are alight amongst hundreds in southern Iraq," said Mr. Hoon. "A primary aim of our current operations is to prevent further opportunities for such deliberate destruction and to enable remedial action to be taken as soon as is practical."

Mr. Hoon also confirmed that British Royal Marines have taken the strategic al-Faw Peninsula to try to prevent Iraq from flooding the Persian Gulf with oil.