| Iraqi boys pose with their toy guns in Baghdad. (AFP)
Washington/Baghdad, July 18 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the Iraq war yesterday.
In a speech to the US Congress, Blair said history would forgive the US and Britain for invading Iraq, even if they were proved wrong about the threat from its weapons of mass destruction. “If we are right, as I believe with every fiber and instinct of conviction I have that we are, and we do not act, then we will have hesitated in the face of this menace when we should have given leadership. That is something history will not forgive,” Blair said in what was billed as one of the most important foreign speeches of his Premiership.
Bush insisted that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and was trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programme. “The regime of Saddam Hussein was a grave and growing threat. Given Saddam’s history of violence and aggression, it would have been reckless to place our trust in his sanity or his restraint,” he told a joint news conference with Blair.
“As long as I hold this office I will never risk the lives of American citizens by assuming the good will of dangerous enemies about such such weapons,” he said.
Bush and Blair held their first White House meeting since Blair has come under intense attack at home for the failure to find Saddam’s suspected weapons of mass destruction, which both used to justify the invasion.
Bush lavished praise on Blair, the first British Prime Minister to address a joint session of Congress since Margaret Thatcher in 1985, and only the fourth ever to do so. “Tony Blair is a leader of conviction, of passion, of moral clarity and eloquence. He is a true friend of the American people,” Bush said.
In his speech, Blair said Washington must stay committed to reconstructing Iraq and the West Asian peace process, which he said was crucial to the fight against terrorism. And he asked Bush not to “give up on Europe.”
“America must listen as well as lead,” Blair said, adding: “But don’t every apologise for your values.”
The number of US soldiers killed in combat in Iraq surpassed the toll for the 1991 Gulf War today when a servicemen was killed in a blast in the restive town of Falluja.
His death was the 148th in combat since the war was launched nearly four months ago. A US military spokeswoman said the soldier’s Humvee drove over an explosive device in the town 50 km west of Baghdad. There were 147 American fatalities in the 1991 war.
A top Pentagon architect of the war was in Baghdad today as a panel of experts warned that Washington had three months to create law and order or risk descent into chaos. In Najaf, a powerful Shia cleric said a new US-backed governing body in Iraq did not represent Iraqis in a strong rebuke to Washington’s efforts to launch a democratic process in the country.
Thousands of Shias converged on the holy city to hear Sheikh Muqtada alSadr call for an Islamic army and a new constitution. “We condemn the Governing Council headed by the US,” Sadr said in a fiery sermon at Koufa mosque near Najaf.
In Iraq, U.S. troops tightened security in anticipation of attacks by Saddam loyalists marking the anniversary of the 1968 Baath Party coup that paved the way for his rule.
But for the first time in 35 years, most Iraqis ignored a day once marked by massive parades, speeches and songs in praise of Saddam and his widely feared supporters.
”This is the best July 17th I've seen so far because there is no Saddam and no Baath,” said Fadil Amin, a translator in Baghdad.“We're better off without them, even if we don't have any electrical power or water and security is abysmal.”
Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid conceded on Wednesday that American forces were now facing a“classical guerrilla-type campaign” in Iraq.
A U.S. soldier's death in a grenade attack on Wednesday brought the total of American fatalities to 147, equaling the toll in the 1991 Gulf War.