- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 21 (UPI) — British Prime Minister Tony Blair Friday said the war in Iraq "appears to be going well," but warned the U.S.-led coalition would face resistance and "not achieve all its objectives overnight."

Speaking at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels, Blair claimed there were signs of desertions of Iraqi troops in the south of the country and said many conscripts had been "terrorized into military conflict."

In a direct message to the Iraqi people, the Labor leader said the quarrel was not with them but the "brutal" regime of Saddam Hussein.

Blair also paid a glowing tribute to the eight Royal Marines killed in an overnight helicopter crash in Kuwait.

"These were brave men who in order to make us safer and more secure faced the risks and had the courage to serve the country and the wider world," Blair told reporters.

"We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude and our thoughts and prayers are with their families."

Blair, who has sent 45,000 British troops to the Gulf, said EU heads of state had expressed "considerable support" for the strike against Baghdad during a dinner discussion late Thursday.

However, there was little evidence of any change in the long-established positions of EU states as the conflict entered its second day.

France, Germany, Belgium, Greece and Sweden continue to oppose military action, while Italy, Spain, Denmark and Portugal broadly back the British and American forces in the Gulf.

EU leaders agreed that the United Nations should play a "central role" in the provision of emergency aid to Iraqi civilians and in the post-war reconstruction of the country.

Blair said there was "complete agreement" between Brussels and Washington that Iraq's oil money should be "Put in a U.N. trust-fund for the Iraqi people and no one else."

The British prime minister also said it was "important" to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution "which governs not just the humanitarian situation but the post-Saddam civil authority in Iraq."

The United States has said that it, rather than the United Nations, should rule Iraq in the immediate aftermath of war.

Blair expressed his pleasure that EU leaders had agreed a joint statement expressing the "need to strengthen the transatlantic partnership, which remains a fundamental strategic priority for the European Union."

In a veiled reference to French President Jacques Chirac, who has sought to pit Europe against America since the start of the stand-off, Blair said: "Europe is a friend and a partner of the United States, not its rival."

Europe's leaders were expected to discuss ways of boosting the continent's sluggish growth Friday in a quarterly summit overshadowed by events in the Middle East.

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