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Opening Statement by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, at a press conference, No. 10 Downing Street

Tuesday, 06 April 2004


This time last year of course Saddam Hussein was still in power, if only just. He's now in jail awaiting trial for his crimes. This time last year Iraqi Shias were excluded from political life, now Shias are actually the majority on the Iraqi Governing Council. Shia councils are running Shia towns. This time last year religious celebrations were banned, the streets of the holy cities, Najaf and Karbala were the haunt of the intelligence services of Saddam. Now they are actually thronged with pilgrims.

So big challenges remain in Iraq, of that there is no doubt, as events in the recent days show. Iraq has been a deeply damaged country, and going from totalitarianism to freedom was always bound to be difficult. A few groups are abusing these new freedoms in Iraq. There are sympathisers of Saddam Hussein, there are some outside terrorists and then, as we have seen recently, there are people who want to subvert the path of Iraq towards a proper democracy. Moqtadr Al- Sadr does not represent, however, the vast majority of Iraq's Shias. He doesn't represent any of the values of the new Iraq. He represents a small band of extremists, he surrounds himself with an armed militia, and there's absolutely no place for armed militias in the new Iraq. Iraq should be governed by democracy, not by militias or by demagoguery.

So before we hand over authority to an Iraqi government, which we shall do on the timetable we have set out, we will of course face more challenges. It always was going to be a difficult task, but as the few words that we have just had now when we have been talking together indicate, the vast majority of Iraqis want to see Iraq make that progress towards stability, towards democracy and towards prosperity and we, the Americans, the British, the other countries there in Iraq at the present time, and the Iraqi people have a common interest. We both of us want the extremists to fail and the moderate majority to succeed, and I'm sure eventually we will.


I was very honoured to meet the Prime Minister on this day as a year on since this war of liberation of Iraq started by the United States and Britain. I think the Prime Minister took a very courageous decision, and an honourable decision. We, the people of Iraq, will recall that with pride, and our history will record that this decision was justified, was honourable and for the liberation of an entire people from years of tyranny, of dictatorship, of killing at random. All these mass graves are a testimony to the cruelty, to the brutality we in Iraq have suffered, and we had a very good exchange with the Prime Minister, exchange of the situation as it is in Iraq. All our concerns about the challenges to the security of the people of Iraq from whoever. We think that recent disturbances does not mean that Iraq is descending into chaos. I think we have the institutions, the processes in place that we will be able to manage this situation and already we are working with the Coalition Provisional Authority to calm down the situation on the one hand and to deal firmly also with all those elements who are trying to challenge the law and order and the security of the Iraqi people. But the important thing in fact, we have a political process now we have the United Nations back in Iraq who are helping us to legitimise the process of the handover of authority, of sovereignty to a new Iraqi Government by the end of 30 June 2004. I have discussed with the Prime Minister the need in fact from our point of view, as Iraqis, for a new Security Council Resolution to legitimise this, to end the status of occupation in Iraq which I think everybody supports and agrees that the Iraqis at the end of the day should be in charge of their country, of their affairs and we also expressed our gratitude really to the British forces for the job they are doing. We are very proud of them, and the British people also should be very proud of them.



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