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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 00:57 GMT
Roped together for the war

By Andrew Marr
BBC News Political Editor at Camp David, Maryland

Tony Blair (left) with George Bush
Side-by-side against the critics
This was not the message that US President George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair expected to be giving at the end of the first week of war.

It was a defiant reassertion of their joint determination to see the conflict through to the end; but the fact they had to spell it out was eloquent evidence of "week one wobble".

The wobble is caused by military voices warning that this war could last for months, and be bloodier than public opinion was led to expect.

Neither Mr Bush nor Mr Blair have been incautious enough themselves to predict that the Baghdad regime would collapse in a few days.

But there had been a widely-held optimism that the huge imbalance of forces would produce a rapid collapse of Iraqi resistance, followed by vast crowds of cheering, liberated people.

Early days

These are still very early days, but it doesn't feel like that.

Bad weather, long supply lines and tenacious resistance by pro-Saddam fighters are only part of the story.

There is also a likely Iraqi strategy of luring American and British troops into street-fighting, in the hope that bloody images of dead soldiers, and the harvest of Western bombs that have gone astray, will turn public opinion so violently against the war that it has to be halted.

So this is not only a conventional war, and a propaganda war, but a war of determination too.

Hence the two leaders' message that higher casualties, and TV footage of dead, captured and executed troops would make the leaders angrier, but would not make them flinch.

Military decision ahead

Militarily, the hardest decision will be what to do if the Republican Guard withdraws into Baghdad and dares the US and British forces to attack them street by street, risking horrendous civilian and military casualties.

It is inconceivable that Mr Blair and Mr Bush, alone in the Maryland woods, did not discuss that awesome decision.

Its political importance makes it too big for generals alone.

Beyond that, their agenda included the Middle East "road map" for peace, which matters to Mr Blair more than Mr Bush, and the looming humanitarian aid crisis in Iraq.

UN role

But the trickiest question dividing Washington and London is likely to be the role of the UN in administering a post-war Iraq.

For Mr Blair, early and deep UN involvement would help bind the wounds caused by the road to war
In the Commons this week, Development Secretary Clare Short said that British and US forces would be an occupying power with no legal authority for creating new institutions or a new government for Iraq.

She demanded a new UN mandate.

At around the same time, US Secretary of State Colin Powell was telling Congress that the US expected to play a dominant role in Iraq after the war.

This is partly a disagreement about timing.

Both sides accept there will be a US military and civilian administration in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, trying to avoid an eruption of vengeful violence, and deliver food aid.

Binding the wounds

But for Mr Blair, early and deep UN involvement would help bind the wounds caused by the road to war.

For many of the powerful men around Mr Bush, the UN itself is a busted flush, which can be safely relegated to a minor role.

This all matters - hugely.

But for the time being, it can all be put to one side, as Mr Blair himself has indicated.

There are grimmer questions first for these two men whose determination should not be questioned, and whose fates are now roped together.


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