Blair thanks troops in Iraq for 'definfing moment of our century'

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair today thanked British troops in Iraq for the "magnificent" job they had done in helping to liberate the country.

Addressing some 400 British personnel in Basra, southern Iraq, Mr Blair said: "I know there are a lot of disagreements in the country about the wisdom of my decision to order the action, but I can assure you of one thing, there is absolutely no dispute in Britain at all about your professionalism and your courage and your dedication."

Mr Blair told the troops they could be proud "not just of the way you won the war, which was extraordinary, but the way that you are conducting the peace, which is remarkable".

Mr Blair told the troops: "I would just like to express the sense of pride that

everybody has in Britain over the magnificent job you have done."

The Prime Minister said the taking of the Al Faw peninsula and the city of Basra with a minimum of civilian casualties was "famous right round the world".

He said: "You have brought tremendous honour on our country and respect and admiration everywhere for the way in which you did this."

Mr Blair added: "I know this was real war with real bloodshed and real casualties. There are people you will know who aren't going back home, and we grieve for them and pay respect for everything they did and the sacrifice they made."

Mr Blair told the personnel that the successful conclusion of the Iraq conflict

had been achieved by "your courage and professionalism".

He added: "People back home are incredibly proud of what you have done.

"You have made this whole country, our country, hold its head up high.

"I think that is a wonderful, wonderful achievement. It is your achievement and I thank you."

Mr Blair said: "There are people here who, in years to come, will look back and

remember what you did and recognise that.

"Iraq is one of the wealthiest countries potentially in the world yet its people live in appalling poverty.

"In the years to come, as a result of what you have done, we can rebuild that country and we will help in that."

The Prime Minister went on: "Something else is happening right throughout this region. This area of the world has been a source of more instability, more terrorism, more difficulty in managing world affairs than any other region in the world."

He said that as a result of the removal of Saddam Hussein it was possible to see the changes that were happening.

"You can see in relation to countries like Syria and Iran where there are big issues we need to discuss with them and resolve with them, that we can do that in a completely different atmosphere than was possible a few months ago."

They could now also see, for Israel and Palestine, the first chance now for several years of the beginning of hopes for a different way forward for the future.

"I would like to think that maybe in a year or two years' time it will be possible for some of you to come back and see the changes in this country that have have arisen from what you have done today.

"What you did serves as a model as to how armed forces anywhere in the world should conduct themselves.

"You fought and won the battle with great courage and valour. But it did not stop there. You went on to try and make something of the country you have liberated.

"That is a lesson for armed forces everywhere the world over.

"When people look back at this time and this conflict I honestly believe they will see this as one of the defining moments of our century."