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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Blair tries to switch Iraq agenda

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

Tony Blair did what he intended to do in Washington - he switched attention, or tried to at least, from the issue of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the results of the war.

Tony Blair addressing US Congress
Blair: Easier ride in Congress than in UK Parliament

These he defined as the removal of a "threat" and the extension of "liberty."

His speech went down well in the US Congress, whose members, like Roman Senators, appreciate such sweeping talk.

But in attempting to change the agenda, Mr Blair has changed the nature of the "threat."

Look first at the language he used in his key House of Commons speech on 18 March. Then he talked of Iraq's "weapons" and said that claims that Iraq had destroyed all of them were "palpably absurd."

Now the threat is more diffuse. Mr Blair described it as one which "at its least is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering." This must refer to Saddam Hussein's' internal repression, his invasion of Kuwait and his use of poison gas against Iran and the Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war. It is not quite what the threat had been defined as before this war.

But the removal of this threat alone, said Mr Blair, would be enough even if "we are wrong" about the weapons. "I am confident history will forgive", he declared.

History and his critics will probably find it easier to forgive if Iraq is put together again.

'Turbo-charged' effort

Simultaneously with Mr Blair's appearance at Congress came a Washington think-tank report on Iraq, which called for much greater urgency in reconstruction.

"It requires that the whole effort be immediately turbo-charged," the report concluded.

The next three months are crucial
CSIS report
This is not just some academic document. It was drawn up at the request of the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by a team of five experienced former US government officials.

They were led by John Hamre, the President of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a Deputy Secretary of Defence under President Clinton.

The team travelled in Iraq during 11 days this month and last and have come up with quite a gloomy assessment. It says that "the next three months are crucial" in turning around the security situation and that "the next 12 months will be decisive" in the overall effort.

The report highlights seven areas which it says "need immediate attention."

Report's recommendations

1. Public safety must be established in all parts of the country - Iraqis must be recruited to a "Facility Protection Service" to guard buildings and ex-soldiers and militias re-integrated into the new Iraqi army.

2. Iraqis must be brought in the rebuilding process at every level - local councils must be linked to the new Iraqi Governing Council, for example.

3. "Idle hands must be put to work" - there should be a public works programme for a start.

4. Decentralisation is essential - and more civilian experts, foreign if need be, must be hired to help.

5. "A profound change in the Iraqi frame of mind" must be undertaken to change "suspicion to trust" - this would include setting up a "headline news" TV channel to counter rumour and get the message over.

6. The US needs to mobilise a new international reconstruction coalition to help counter "rising anti-Americanism".

7. More money must be provided and be spent quickly - "business as usual" is not an option.

The report indicates, if any further indications were needed, the magnitude of the task ahead. The success of that task will help determine the final assessment of the war, and Mr Blair's part in it, by history.

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