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Blair: Troops in Iraq till violence ends

LONDON, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- British troops will remain in Iraq until the violent insurgency ends, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday.

Speaking after Downing Street talks with Massoud Barzani, leader of Iraq's Kurdish minority, Blair said multinational forces could leave the country tomorrow if the insurgency ended.

Referring to the Pentagon's report Sunday that 26,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed or wounded as a result of the insurgency since January 2004, Blair said he "regretted" every civilian death.

However, he made clear he regarded the insurgents, and not the presence of coalition troops, as responsible for the killings.

"It is the terrorists and insurgents who are killing people in order to stop the democratic process," he said.

"If the violence stopped today, the multinational force could leave tomorrow. It is the violence that keeps us in order to support the political process," Blair said.

Barzani, who is leader of the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, acknowledged that there were those in Britain, the United States, and within Iraq itself who opposed the war, but said: "If there is any weakness in dealing with this war, then the war will come to our doorsteps."

Blair said that the fight against insurgents in Iraq was part of the global struggle against terrorism.

"This is a basic and important struggle for not just the freedom of people in Iraq against terrorism, but for the freedom of people everywhere against terrorism. The self-same people who are killing innocent people in Iraq are killing innocent people in India, in Egypt, in this country, in other parts of Europe, in other parts of the world," the prime minister declared.


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