Stefan Rousseau  /  AP
British Prime Minister Tony Blair inspects the Iraqi National Guard with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, left, on Tuesday in Baghdad.
updated 12/21/2004 7:35:42 AM ET 2004-12-21T12:35:42

British Prime Minister Tony Blair held talks with Iraq's interim leader during a surprise visit to Baghdad on Tuesday, and described the violence in the run-up Iraqi national elections as a "battle between democracy and terror."

In a joint news conference with Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Blair urged Iraqis to support the Jan. 30 vote.

"Whatever people's feelings and beliefs about the removal of Saddam Hussein, and the wisdom of that, there surely is only one side to be on in what is now very clearly a battle between democracy and terror," said Blair, whose trip to Iraq had not been disclosed for security reasons.

Election commission members 'heroes of the new Iraq'
Blair said he had just met members of Iraq's election commission, which has been targeted by insurgents. Three commission members were dragged from their car and killed by insurgents in Baghdad this week.

"I said to them that I thought they were the heroes of the new Iraq that's being created because here are people who are risking their lives every day to make sure that the people of Iraq get a chance to decide their own destiny," Blair said.

Allawi said the cause of the U.S.-led multinational force, in which British troops are serving, was "not only to bring democracy to Iraq, but also to ensure peace and stability in the region."

Allawi said his government was committed to holding the elections on time next month, despite calls for their postponement owing to the continuing violence.

"We have always expected that the violence would increase as we approach the elections," Allawi said.

Third visit to Iraq
Blair flew into the Iraqi capital about 11 a.m. aboard a British military transport aircraft from Jordan. A Royal Air Force helicopter flew from Baghdad airport to the city center, escorted by U.S. Black Hawk helicopters.

It was Blair's first visit to Baghdad and his third to Iraq since the dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in April 2003. Blair visited British troops stationed around the southern Iraqi city of Basra in mid-2003 and in January.

President Bush had paid a late night visit to U.S. troops in Baghdad in November 2003.

The British leader was a key supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam. His decision to back the U.S. offensive angered many lawmakers in his governing Labour Party and a large portion of the British public.

Britain has some 9,800 troops in Iraq, stationed mostly around Basra. It is the second largest contributor to the multinational force after the United States.

Before meeting the Iraqi prime minister, Blair met the commander of the multinational force, U.S. Army Gen. George W. Casey, and the senior British military officer in Iraq, Lt. Gen. John Kiszely.

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