London, April 13: Tony Blair is planning to visit Iraq in a dramatic bid to assure Iraqis that Britain will stand by them in their efforts to build a better country.
However, the timing of the British Prime Minister’s visit is being kept a closely-guarded secret because of security reasons.
All a Downing Street spokesman would say was: “We never discuss such trips until very close to the event for security reasons.”
The spokesman would not confirm that such a trip was being planned but a British diplomatic source said Blair did not want the visit to be viewed in West Asia as “triumphalist”.
What is still being worked out is whether Blair and President George W. Bush should go together. Bush’s antipathy to foreign travel is legendary. “He has still not been to Afghanistan but Blair has (on his way back from India),” the source pointed out.
Last week, Bush and Blair broadcast personal messages to the Iraqi people on a new TV channel, Towards Freedom, which is being beamed from an American aircraft. The broadcast was in English with Arabic subtitles.
A personal visit by Blair will also enable him to thank the British servicemen and women, 45,000 of whom have been involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
TV pictures of Blair being warmly received by ordinary Iraqis would do wonders for his damaged standing at home. The coalition is on the point of winning the war against Saddam Hussein, but Blair still has a formidable battle at home in winning over MPs in his own party and the large section of the country which was against the war.
He cannot rely on assistance, for example, from the Daily Mirror, a newspaper which traditionally supports Labour. Today, for example, Blair has been subjected to friendly fire from the Sunday Mirror which emphasised that the wives and families of British servicemen who have died in the war will receive a fraction of the compensation that their American counterparts will.