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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 January, 2004, 13:16 GMT
Political imperative behind Blair's Iraq visit

By Andrew Marr
BBC political editor, in Basra

The main purpose of Tony Blair's visit to Iraq was the political imperative.

To try to explain to people that the war against Iraq was a war that was worth fighting and has real benefits.

Tony Blair smiles for pictures with troops in Basra
Tony Blair's trip to Iraq was kept secret until his arrival

The weapons of mass destruction - or weapons of mass distraction as the prime minister called them at one point on Sunday - have not turned up, and there are many serious questions about the longer term future of Iraq.

For example, what kind of Iraqi regime will one day take over? Will it be allowed to be independent?

But the message was very much the humanitarian one that, certainly here in the south of Iraq where there are some 10,000 British servicemen and women deployed, things are beginning to return to something a little bit more like normality as many countries would understand normality.

There is traffic in the streets, the economy is starting to revive a little bit, a certain amount of security returning, far fewer shootings, the odd bombing - but better.

The message was that the British involvement had helped to bring hope to a part of the world where people had been living for decades under dictatorship, police state and in great poverty.

Tony Blair cannot divert attention from why we went to war, because this is the month when Lord Hutton reports and when there is going to be inevitably a great upsurge of debate about that again.

'Cannot hide'

What this shows is he accepts that he cannot hide away from that.

He has to take it full-on, and he has to try and make some of those humanitarian cases for the conflict that he did not make before the war started.

Back then he was in this very strange position, if you remember.

He knew very well that the Labour backbenches would be more receptive to the humanitarian case for going to war against Iraq - the fact that Saddam was such a brutal dictator and all of that.

But for legal reasons he was obliged to make the case on the weapons of mass destruction that famously still have not turned up.

So he could not get away from it, and this visit shows that at least he is in fairly pugnacious mood as what will be a fairly difficult January begins.

The BBC's Andrew Marr
"British troops, Blair said, had a right to be proud"


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