As the Prime Minister uttered his conviction that he would "do it all again", US war planes were already on the move in what the Bush administration described as the biggest onslaught that Iraq has witnessed since the war
More than 50 aircraft and 1,500 Iraqi and US troops attacked insurgents in Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the golden dome of one of Shia Islam's holiest shrines was destroyed by the insurgents last month.
The White House is also completely unapologetic about the decision to use force to tackle the supposed threat of Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, despite signs that Iraq is now headed for a full-scale civil war.
According to official figures, 103 British troops have been lost in the conflict, while the Americans have suffered 2,311 fatalities. There is no official record of the Iraqi deaths.
Yesterday, US troops launched "Operation Swarmer" near Samarra, which has long been an insurgent stronghold. Residents said they could hear loud explosions and see Iraqi and American troops on the move. An increased use of air power may indicate a shift in tactics in order to reduce US casualties. It is also likely to lead to increased Iraqi civilian casualties.
The insurgents seldom defend fixed positions after they suffered heavy losses when US Marines stormed Fallujah in November 2004, the last major American offensive against them.
Mr Blair, who believes he will be judged by God over the Iraq conflict, will fly to the US next month for talks with President George Bush. The third anniversary of their joint decision to invade Iraq falls next Monday.
They will have a crowded agenda of problems to discuss when they meet: the continued flouting of international law by the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, which Mr Blair said yesterday should be closed; the riots in the Palestinian territories this week that have undermined his reputation of honest broker; the renewed tensions with Iran; and the public demands in both the US and Britain for the troops to be brought home from Iraq.
Mr Blair is planning to deliver a speech next week to justify the war, and answer the deep misgivings within his own party at the continued occupation of Iraq. Although there was never any evidence to link Saddam to the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11, Mr Blair yesterday said he would be linking the war which toppled Saddam with the global battle against terrorism.
Asked by journalists whether he would do it all again, Mr Blair unhesitatingly replied: "I most certainly would."
His own anti-war Labour MPs will be joining a mass demonstration against the continued occupation of Iraq in London on Saturday. They will be calling for the troops to be brought home, but Mr Blair ruled out, "leaving a small minority who want terror and violence to overwhelm the majority who show they are prepared for democracy".
He went on: "It would not be just a terrible defeat for the whole of the western world to walk away from these people in their hour of need it would show a complete lack of confidence in our values and in the system of government that we believe in and so do anyone anywhere when they are given a chance to choose it."
Mr Blair carefully avoided saying he was confident about the future of Iraq, but he appeared determined to avoid Iraq being his political epitaph when he steps down. Cabinet colleagues believe he has a little over a year to achieve a lasting settlement that can avoid civil war.
"Yes it is true there are insurgents who are trying to disrupt the democratic process," Mr Blair said. "That is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to defeat them."
The Bush administration yesterday issued the latest update of its quadrennial National Security Strategy, in which it conceded errors of intelligence. But it insisted that had pre-war sanctions against to Baghdad continued to erode, the former Iraqi leader would have rebuilt his WMD stockpiles.
"With the elimination of Saddam's regime, this threat has been addressed, once and for all."
The 49-page document also drew wider positive lessons from the war, despite polls showing that a clear majority of Americans now believe that the invasion was not worth it and that the United States is less rather than more safe as a result.
The insurgents have grown stronger in recent weeks as the five-million-strong Sunni community becomes increasingly terrified of Shia death squads drawn from the Iraqi Interior Ministry and the army. Even moderate Sunnis now look to their own militiamen rather than government forces.
The US operation may simply be a show of strength by the US military in Iraq to send a message that it is still to be feared.
Nonetheless, Washington has now decided it has no choice but to talk directly to Iran, a country with strong influence among the majority Shia leaders in Iraq, but which it accuses of denial and deception in a widely suspected bid to secure nuclear weapons.
In Washington, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said that Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador in Baghdad, was authorised to talk to Tehran - but only about Iraq.Reuse content