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Blair Vows to Continue Rebuilding Iraq - 2003-12-31

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in his New Year's message he will continue to help rebuild Iraq.

2003 was not a good year for Tony Blair, who faced growing criticism at home for his handling of the Iraq war and pursuing unpopular policies at home. But he vowed to press ahead with his agenda.

In a written New Year's message, he said, "this is no time to coast, no time to falter with the job only half done." He said the capture of Saddam Hussein in early December was "a vital milestone on the road to a stable Iraq." He added, "there will be no better signal for the Middle East than a stable, democratic Iraq."

Mindful of the split in Britain over going to war in the first place, Mr. Blair said the decision to enter the conflict was his most difficult, and he praised the efforts of British service personnel in Iraq.

Mr. Blair's problems over Iraq are not over. In January, a judicial inquiry will report its findings into the presumed suicide death of leading weapons expert, David Kelly, who was believed to have been the source behind media reports claiming the government had exaggerated the risk of Saddam Hussein's arsenal.

The prime minister sold the war to a skeptical country and to parliament on the basis of Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Blair also welcomed Libya's recent decision to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction, calling it courageous.

On the domestic front, the British leader has promised a more efficient asylum system aimed at giving more help to genuine refugees and swifter removal of those who are not.