British troops will 'stay the course until the job is done'

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An angry Tony Blair vowed yesterday that British forces would "stay the course" in Iraq as he prepared to send thousands more troops to the country.

An angry Tony Blair vowed yesterday that British forces would "stay the course" in Iraq as he prepared to send thousands more troops to the country.

In words also aimed at dismissing reports that he could be preparing to resign, he said: "The task of leadership is precisely not to cut and run but to face difficulties and overcome them." He said the world faced a choice between an Iraq that had been "wrecked and degraded" by Saddam Hussein and the prospect of giving it a stable, democratic future. "We have the will. We have the leadership. We will get the job done and we will continue until the job is done. I cannot be any clearer."

Mr Blair spoke in Ankara in talks with the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as MPs of all parties lined up at Westminster to criticise the Government's handling of the occupation of Iraq. Visibly irritated at aggressive questioning, he told reporters: "We're not going to have any so-called quick exit."

He added: "Every time there is a terrorist incident in Iraq or someone is assassinated, that's a reason for staying the course and not ducking out from getting the job done."

But the problems Mr Blair faces in winning international support were highlighted yesterday by his host's grim assessment of the problems on the ground and his rebuke for allegations of brutality by Western soldiers. Mr Erdogan said: "When we consider the latest developments, we can't consider the situation to be going in a positive direction. I'm sure the latest photographs created concerns among the Turkish public. There's no way to advocate such things."

Mr Blair's comments underlined his determination to scotch suggestions that a renewed military and diplomatic push in Iraq was preparing the ground for an early withdrawal.

Earlier, Downing Street signalled that more UK forces would be sent to Iraq within the next week, but the deployment will coincide with a fresh attempt to speed up the push for a stable political settlement after the transfer of power to an Iraqi administration on 30 June.

Confirming the plans for extra troops, Mr Blair's spokesman said it was part of a "considered strategic response" to bringing stability.

Last night, it was reported the Government would announce next week that Britain would send up to 3,000 extra troops to Iraq. Royal Marines and an armoured infantry battle group would go to the volatile part of southern Iraq which includes Najaf, where thousands of militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr have been fighting US troops, according to the reports.

Mr Blair's comments came as Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, faced hostile questioning in a a debate on Iraq, called by the Liberal Democrats. Sir Menzies Campbell, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, called for British forces to start being withdrawn after elections to an Iraqi government.

Even MPs supportive of the war called for the resignation of the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, over the abuse of prisoners by US troops. Nicholas Soames, the shadow Defence Secretary, told MPs: "It is hard to exaggerate how disastrous the last two weeks have been for the Government".

Clare Short, the former international development secretary, called for a "rapid exit strategy". "The truth is that when our political leaders speak, too often they ... appear to belittle the loss of life for Iraqi citizens," she said.

Meanwhile it emerged Britain had tried to soften the language of an EU condemnation of mistreatment of prisoners in Iraqi jails. The declaration from EU foreign ministerssaid instances of abuse were "contrary to international law, including the Geneva Conventions."

¿ The Government has spent as much on war in Iraq over the past 18 months as on pensioners over the past seven years, a conference will be told today.

Opening the Pensioners Parliament of the National Pensioners Convention in Blackpool, the group's president, Rodney Bickerstaffe, will say: "Whatever people's differing views on the war in Iraq, it has so far cost the Government around £10bn in 18 months - roughly the same as has been spent on pensions in the past seven years."