Image: Tony Blair
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
In a speech Friday at Georgetown University in Washington, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called on the world to help Iraq, a “child of democracy struggling to be born.”
updated 5/26/2006 12:50:10 PM ET 2006-05-26T16:50:10

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Friday for more international support for an Iraq struggling to emerge as a democratic state and appealed for reconciliation there and internationally.

“This is a child of democracy struggling to be born,” Blair said in a speech at Georgetown University. “Surely we must all accept this as a genuine attempt,” he said, urging the world community to take on the role of midwife.

“If Iraqis can show their faith in democracy by voting for it, shouldn’t we show ours by supporting them?” Blair asked.

“The war split the world,” Blair, a rare ally of President Bush in going to war, acknowledged in his speech. “The struggle of Iraqis for democracy should unite them.”

He said he found on a visit to Iraq that its leaders want a democratic state. “They want the rule of law, not violence,” Blair said to a quiet, attentive audience.

In London, maverick British politician George Galloway said it would be “morally justified” for an assassin to target Blair, but he said he was not advocating an attempt.

At a White House news conference Thursday, Bush and Blair were defensive when they would have preferred to celebrate the recent political success in Baghdad.

Bush acknowledged the bloodshed has been difficult for the world to understand. Blair called the violence “ghastly.”

But, Bush said at the White House, “Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing.”

Bush acknowledged Thursday night that the bloodshed has been difficult for the world to understand. Blair called the violence “ghastly.”

But, Bush said at the White House, “Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing.”

Those missteps include the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, though Bush said those responsible have been jailed. More personally, the president said, he learned not to use so much “tough talk” — saying Osama bin Laden was wanted “dead or alive” and challenging America’s enemies to “bring it on.”

Personal lessons learned for Bush
“I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner, you know,” Bush said softly.

Blair said the leaders did not accurately predict immense challenges such as the strength of the insurgency. “It should have been very obvious to us,” the prime minister said.

The press conference came after Bush and Blair had a private meeting and ended when the two left for dinner upstairs in the president’s residence.

Blair was continuing his Washington visit Friday with a speech at Georgetown University and a private lunch with Bush before heading home.

Blair briefed the president on his discussions in Baghdad on Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said his forces are capable of taking control of security in all provinces within 18 months. Iraq’s new government was installed last week.

“I think it’s possible to happen in the way that Prime Minister Maliki said,” Blair said. “For that to happen, obviously, the first thing that we need is a strong government in Baghdad that is prepared to enforce its writ throughout the country. My very strong feeling, having talked to the leaders there, is that they intend theirs to be such a government.”

Refusal to set withdrawal timetable
Neither Bush nor Blair would give specifics on when soldiers from their countries can begin to go home.

“We’re going to work with our partners in Iraq, the new government, to determine the way forward,” Bush said. He said the goal remains “an Iraq that can govern itself and sustain itself and defend itself.”

He said one problem was the lack of an Iraqi defense minister, and he urged Maliki to fill the post soon.

Bush declined to discuss news reports that the Pentagon hoped that the U.S. force, now at 131,000 troops, could be reduced to about 100,000 by year’s end.

“We’ll keep the force level there necessary to win,” Bush said.

Britain has about 8,000 troops in Iraq. Blair said the goal remains that Iraqi security forces could “take control progressively of their own country.”

On another topic high on the agenda, neither Bush nor Blair would reveal his thinking on possible incentives to draw Iran back to negotiations over its suspected nuclear weapons program.

“Of course, we’ll look at all options. But it’s their choice right now — they’re the ones who walked away from the table,” Bush said. “I think we ought to be continuing to work on ways to make it clear to them that they will be isolated.”

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