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Blair Becomes First Western Leader to Visit Post-Saddam Iraq - 2003-05-29

British Prime Minister Tony Blair Thursday became the first Western leader to visit Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Blair met with British and American officials and Iraqi school children in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

The prime minister told several hundred British troops in Basra Thursday that the defeat of Saddam Hussein was a momentous and mighty act for the people of Iraq. "When people look back on this time, I honestly believe they will see this as one of the defining moments of the century," said Tony Blair.

Mr. Blair was in Basra visiting British troops, who control Iraq's second largest city. He also met with the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, to discuss reconstruction.

The prime minister said the war to oust Saddam's regime and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would help bring hope to a troubled region of the world. "This area of the world has been the source of probably more instability, more terrorism, more difficulty in managing world affairs than any other region in the world," he said.

Mr. Blair also visited a school in Basra. He then traveled to the port city of Umm Qasr to inspect a British mine sweeping vessel.

Britain committed 45,000 troops to the U.S.-led effort to oust Saddam Hussein. 34 of its troops were killed, either in combat or accidents.

Earlier Thursday, a U.S. soldier was killed during an ambush on a main supply route in Iraq.

He was the fifth U.S. soldier killed this week by armed attackers.