March 26, 2006

Iraq, Afghanistan decisive battlegrounds: UK’s Blair

By Adrian Croft and James Grubel

CANBERRA (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair said
on Monday that Iraq and Afghanistan were decisive battlegrounds
for the values the West believes in and warned of the risk of a
U.S. retreat into isolationism.

In a speech to the Australian parliament, Blair made his
case for the West to get involved in a broad range of issues,
not just on the security front, in its struggle against
Islamist militants.

U.S. allies Australia and Britain both have troops in Iraq
and Afghanistan, but Australian opposition leader Kim Beazley
has said a future Labor government would withdraw Australian
troops as soon as possible.

Blair, America's closest ally in Iraq, acknowledged that
the war there had divided both Australia and Britain, but
portrayed Iraq and Afghanistan as critical battlegrounds.

"Every reactionary element is lined up to fight us. They
know if they lose, a message is sent out across the Muslim
world that strikes at the heart of their ideology," Blair said.

"We must not hesitate in the face of a battle utterly
decisive as to whether the values we believe in triumph or fail
... If the going is tough -- we tough it out. This is not a
time to walk away. This is a time for courage to see it
through," said Blair, who received a standing ovation.

Outside parliament, about 100 anti-Iraq war protesters,
holding placards saying "B.liar" and "Troops out of Iraq," blew
whistles and trumpets to try to disrupt the visit, but they
were kept well away.


There was no repetition of the heckling that greeted U.S.
President George W. Bush when he defended the invasion of Iraq
in the Canberra parliament in October 2003.

In his introductory speech, Australian Prime Minister John
Howard paid tribute to "the strength of Tony Blair's conviction
to the fight against terrorism."

Beazley noted that he took a different position from Blair
on Iraq "but that doesn't diminish our regard for your

Terry Hicks, whose son David is in U.S. custody in
Guantanamo Bay, listened to Blair's speech in the public

Hicks, whose son is fighting a legal battle for British
citizenship that might ease his release from Guantanamo, said
he was not disappointed at Blair's refusal to meet him.

"Deep down, I didn't expect it anyway," Hicks told Reuters.

Hicks did meet an official from the British High Commission
(embassy) in Canberra on Monday to discuss his son's case.

Blair said that while the battle over values was most
fierce in Iraq and Afghanistan, Western countries also had to
get involved elsewhere and on a range of other issues.

"Wherever people live in fear, with no prospect of advance,
we should be on their side ... whether in Sudan, Zimbabwe,
Burma, North Korea," he said, calling for an "active foreign
policy of engagement" by a strong alliance, including the
United States.

Calling the anti-American feeling seen in parts of world
politics "madness," Blair said: "The danger with America today
is not that they are too much involved. The danger is they
decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. We need them

After this week's Israeli general election, "we must
redouble our efforts to find a way to the only solution that
works: a secure state of Israel and a viable, independent
Palestinian state," Blair said.

He called for action to combat conflict, famine and disease
in Africa, a focus on the threat of climate change, and voiced
support for a new world trade liberalization agreement.