8:00 a.m., Wednesday:
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on CNN and CSPAN live, speaking before Parliament, defending the invasion of Iraq. He is citing the elections, the constitution, reconciliation, and hydrocarbon legislation. Expresses concerns that terrorists are going to thwart all this.
Mentions the bombing of the shrine in Samara. Blames Saddamists, Al Qaeda, and Shia militant groups.
He says these groups are different, but they have one common purpose: to prevent democracy from working. The majority of Iraqis, he says, want democracy. There can be “no debate about the rights and wrongs” in Iraq today, he says. The real question, Blair says, is “Do we have a plan to succeed?”
Cites that Iraqis have 10 divisions, 130,00 trained Iraqi troops. In normal circumstances this would be considered a success, he says.
But these are not normal circumstances, he says. 90% of the violence is in and around Baghdad. “An orgy of terrorism” is being conducted to destabilize Baghdad.
So now we have new plan, says Blair, adjusted to meet the new threats.
We’re going to take the city, district by district. We only started last Tuesday, he says, but it looks good.
Also we’re going to have a better reconciliation effort. It’s much too early to judge whether the plan will work.
Basra is very important, he says. Very different from Baghdad. Not nearly as bad. Iraqi forces have the primary role to secure the city. Murder and kidnapping is down. Plans are in place for new sewage, drinking water, schools, etc. Next chapter in Basra’s history will be written by the Iraqis.
British forces, he says, will move to a base nearby. Role will be to support the Iraqi army. British presence will be reduced, possibly to 5,000 by late summer. But Britain will still be there well into 2008, he says, but increasingly in a supporting role.
Blair pays tribute to Lithuania and Australia.
This is part of a wider struggle between the forces of progress and the forces of reaction. For too long, he says, we ignored what leaders did to their own citizens. Cites Saddam’s gassing of his people. Says the best way to make Britain safer is to democratize the Middle East. Also says we have to resolve the Palestinian - Israel problem.
Says Syria has recognized threat of Al Qaeda, but is hostile toward Lebanon. Says Iran and Syria must work with the international community, or become more isolated. Blair says, The strategy must be clear: to bring about change in the Middle East. Says that international terrorist have chosen Iraq to be the battleground. Defeating it is essential. Our purpose should be to stand up to them.
David Cameron, Conservative Party Leader
Praises troops. He says that we are very far from a peaceful and stable Iraq. How are going to get peace between Sunni, Shia and Kurd, he asks. Cites the Baker-Hamilton report. Notes that Bush has not adopted those recommendations.
He says his party supports peace in the Middle East. Wants Blair to talk about engaging Syria. Calls for even more financial sanctions on Iran. Agrees democracy in the Middle East is a good thing, but surely he says, that a strategy must go beyond military force, that we should use the soft power of diplomacy, that we must have moral authority. Mentions extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo.
“There have been many, many bad mistakes.” Will Blair accept the need to look back at the mistakes that have been made?
Tony Blair responds:
Blair first says that George Bush did not reject the Baker-Hamilton report. Says the Iraqis have a lot of money to spend to rebuild their country. The question he says, with regard to Iran and Syria, is are they prepared to help our effort in Iraq. Syria, maybe. But with Iran it’s clear, that they are not. Some weapons in Iraq are coming from Iran.
Blair says they are going to try to get sanctions on Iran, call it very serious.
Blair disputes extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo, but also mentions Abu Gharib. He says actually what is more important, we must address the Palestinian issue, and also global poverty, especially in Africa. He says “we should not apologize for our values,” the values that can unite all religions of the world against terrorists.
Menzies Campbell speaks:
Menzies Campbell stands up and looks are little angry at the idea that anyone has suggested apologizing for our values. Says that should not be used as excuse for avoid taking responsibility for mistakes. Remember he says, the British government treated Saddam well after Halabja.
Campbell asks if Blair supports Bush’s surge, and what Condi Rice told him about the Palestinian issue. Closes by saying the invasion was a mistake.
Blair says progress in regard to the Israel-Palestinian issue is possible.
On the surge, the most important thing he says, is that Bush’s surge is supported by the Iraqi government. As the terrorists have redoubled their efforts, we have redoubled ours.
He says Iraq was not stable under Saddam. The instability in Iraq right now he says, (laughing, presumably at what sees as the absurdity of the question), is not our fault. It the fault of the elements that oppose efforts of the people of Iraq who voted and the efforts of the U.N.
Alex Salmond speaks:
Notes that Tony Blair did apologize for the slave trade, and asks if Blair will apologize for the mistakes with regard to weapons of mass destruction.
Blair says the reason Iraq is so bad is not because of his mistakes, but because the terrorists have a strategy. Those terrorists are the same in ideology as the ones behind 9/11 and the bus and subway attacks in Britain. We should not “walk away and let them get on with it”.
Doesn’t Tony Blair understand that the only reason Al Qadea is even in Iraq is because of his “foolish” decision to invade Iraq?
The reason it is tough in Iraq is because of the terrorists. “We didn’t cause the terrorism, the terrorists caused the terrorism.” We have to stand up to them. Anywhere they rear their heads. Blair says if we listen to Rifkind we will be well on our way to surrender.