Optimism in London, carnage in Iraq

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The Independent Online

The second Iraq war, between coalition forces and insurgents, is now under way in what has become the "crucible" of the global war on terrorism, Tony Blair declared yesterday after talks with Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, at 10 Downing Street.

The second Iraq war, between coalition forces and insurgents, is now under way in what has become the "crucible" of the global war on terrorism, Tony Blair declared yesterday after talks with Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, at 10 Downing Street.

The two leaders presented a determinedly upbeat picture of everyday life in Iraq. They insisted that despite the recent upsurge in violence elections scheduled for January would go ahead. The terrorists would be defeated, they said. Writing in The Independent today Mr Allawi condemns "sceptics and nay-sayers" and urges "all nations to assist Iraq". The talks were held as two Americans and a Briton, Kenneth Bigley, 62, an engineer from Liverpool, who were kidnapped last week, faced execution. Their captors have set a deadline of today for their demands to be met.

Yesterday a grisly video emerged showing the decapitation of three members of a Kurdish party who had been held by rebels. A second film was screened on the Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera showing 25 Iraqi soldiers who have been kidnapped by extremists.

Mr Blair said: "Whatever the disagreements about the first conflict in Iraq to remove Saddam, in this conflict now taking place in Iraq, this is the crucible in which the future of this global terrorism will be determined. Either it will succeed and this terrorism will grow, or we will succeed, the Iraqi people will succeed and this global terrorism will be delivered a huge defeat.

"I do say to people in this new Iraqi conflict, whatever the disagreements about the removal of Saddam, there is only one side for sensible and reasonable people to be on. Now is not the time for the international community to divide or disagree but to come together behind what is happening in Iraq."

Mr Blair was accused of attempting to draw a line under his unpopular decision to back George Bush in the war on Iraq in advance of next week's Labour Party conference. Some left-wing MPs said it was "offensive" for the Prime Minister to host talks with Mr Allawi, who had CIA links and was chosen by the Bush administration.

With Mr Allawi standing by his side, Mr Blair said the West should "realise that the struggle of this Prime Minister and the Iraqi people for liberty and democracy and stability is our struggle too". The US and the UK would "see it through until it is finished - until it finishes in victory, not of America or Britain or the West but the victory of the Iraqi people," he said.

Mr Blair denied he was being "wildly optimistic'', but the assurances by Mr Allawi and Mr Blair about the state of Iraq raised more questions than they answered. On the timetable for elections, Mr Blair said: "I don't think anybody disputes what is happening in Iraq. We have a process blessed by the United Nations to get Iraq towards democracy." However, Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the UN, last week told the BBC the elections could not be credible if the current level of violence continued.

Mr Blair brushed aside reports that British troop numbers would be increased, or cut, in Iraq. "The real issue is how you build the capability of the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi army [and] police anti- terrorist capability, intelligence capability and so on," he said.

Mr Allawi said: "Let me assure you, we are succeeding in Iraq; we are succeeding against the forces of evil. I am really dismayed by the media, that they are not looking at the bright side and what has been achieved. There have been a lot of very good events on various fronts, security, economy, democracy, the political process."

He said he had been making progress in talks with those on the "fringes of resistance" in the Sunni triangle in Samarra. Within an hour of his remarks, it was reported that a suicide attacker had detonated a car bomb in the town, killing three and wounding seven, including four US soldiers.

Responding to Mr Blair's attempt to move the issue away from the "first" Iraq war, the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, demanded that the Prime Minister publicly apologise for the "illegal" war in Iraq. Mr Kennedy accused Mr Blair of "a litany of betrayal" and of stretching the truth over the basis for going to war, including the assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

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