| A man reads a tabloid in London. (AFP)
London, Nov. 18 (Reuters): Reg Keys, whose son Thomas was killed in Iraq, is not on the list of family members of fallen British servicemen invited to meet George W. Bush this week, but he wishes he was: he has a message for the US President.
“I’d love to meet him, but I’d refuse his hand,” he said. “I’d say: ‘I can’t shake that hand. It’s stained with the blood of my son.’”
Bush’s meetings with families of soldiers killed in Iraq have been billed as one of the centrepieces of his state visit to wartime ally Britain this week.
But as Prime Minister Tony Blair has already learned, the President is likely to find them a difficult audience.
Over the past months, parents and widows of slain soldiers have emerged as some of the war’s most potent critics, many trying to balance pride in their husbands’ and sons’ sacrifice with anger over what they see as false justifications for war.
Lance-Corporal Thomas Keys, 20, was one of six British Royal Military Policemen who was killed by an angry mob while training Iraqi police on June 24 in a town near Basra.
“I want to challenge Bush to meet me,” Reg Keys said by telephone from his home in Wales. “I think I know more about what’s going on in Iraq than he does, from phone calls with my son who was on the ground out there.”
In interviews with British media ahead of his visit to London, Bush stressed his plans to meet the families of soldiers who died in Iraq, to “tell them their loved ones did not die in vain.
“The actions we have taken will make the world more secure and the world more peaceful in the long run.”
But Bush’s comments have been partly overshadowed by widows and parents, several of whom have said they want no part of what Keys called “a propaganda means for his re-election”.
“I’m proud of my son. He died doing his duty,” he said. “But what you have to bring out is: Was their duty justified'”
His son died believing he had gone to war to protect his country from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which have yet to be found, Keys said.
“I think we were all deceived and I think (Bush) has got a nerve to show his face after the deceit he’s pointed toward us,” he added. “My son goes off to war thinking he's protecting the country — he’s gone off deceived and lost his life deceived.”
Britain’s ministry of defence said the meetings with the families of service members would be private and gave no details as to who had been invited or how they were selected. The MoD lists 53 British servicemen as having died in the conflict.