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Last Updated:  Friday, 4 April, 2003, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Blair pledge on post-war Iraq
Mr Blair met Iraqi exiles on Friday
Coalition forces will hand over control of Iraq to the country's people as soon as possible after the conflict, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has told the BBC.

The prime minister was speaking to the BBC's Arabic service as it emerged that thousands of letters from Mr Blair are to be handed to Iraqis as part of efforts to portray the coalition as liberators.

Downing Street says 60,000 copies of the letter, which will include a photo of the prime minister, will be printed each day and delivered by troops.

Our troops will not stay a day longer than necessary
Tony Blair

Mr Blair, who believes what happens after the war is crucial to winning Arab support for the conflict, met a group of Iraqi exiles at Number 10 on Friday.

And he later told the BBC: "The one thing that I want to make absolutely clear is that at the end of this, Iraq is not going to be run by Americans or by Britons, or by any other outside power.

"As soon as the process of transition is over, it's going to be run by Iraqi people and a broad, representative government, not a small clique, an elite around someone like Saddam."

In his letter to Iraqis, he assures them that Saddam Hussein "will be gone" and says there will be no repeat of 1991, when the coalition failed to support Iraqi rebellions.

Prosperous

"As soon as Saddam Hussein's regime falls, the work to build a new, free and united Iraq will begin," he says.

In the end the question will be: is the Iraq of the future going to be a better country than the Iraq under Saddam? And I believe it will be - and our commitment is to make sure it is
Tony Blair

Mr Blair sets out his plans for Iraq once the current regime is toppled: "The coalition forces will make the country safe, and will work with the United Nations to help Iraq get back on its feet.

"We will continue to provide immediate humanitarian aid, and we will help with longer-term projects.

"Our troops will leave as soon as they can. They will not stay a day longer than necessary."

Civilian casualties

In his BBC interview, Mr Blair would not speculate on how long it would be after the end of the war before an Iraqi government was established.

He said: "Our interest is that an Iraq that is free, an Iraq that actually looks after its people rather than looks after Saddam, is an Iraq that will be a responsible and sensible neighbour."

The numbers who have lost their lives are only a small number compared with the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their lives under Saddam
Tony Blair

Asked what he would say to an Iraqi parent whose child had been killed in the war, Mr Blair said he realised there had been civilian casualties but the coalition had done everything possible to minimise them.

"The numbers who have lost their lives are only a small number compared with the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their lives under Saddam," he argued.

Mr Blair said the coalition had been blamed for deaths it had not caused, such as claims it had bombed a Baghdad street market in the early days of the war.

Peace efforts

Trying to quell over Arab and Muslim concerns, Mr Blair said he realised there was cynicism about promises to restart the Middle East peace process.

But he urged people to be open minded, pointing to America's promise to publish the roadmap to created a Palestinian state by 2005.

"I believe it is every bit as important that we make progress on that as we get rid of Saddam," Mr Blair went on.

In the wake of recent comments from US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he also stressed he knew of "absolutely no plans" to take military action against Iran and Syria.

"There are concerns about support for terrorism in certain of those countries, but we have always thought that we could try and deal with these issues in a different way," added Mr Blair.

In a separate interview with Abu Dhabi TV, Mr Blair said he was still certain Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which would be found once Iraqi scientists were confident enough to talk.

He also insisted contracts for rebuilding Iraq would be awarded by the interim Iraqi authority, nobody else.

Mr Blair said: "All this stuff in the media about the Americans giving out the contracts - all that has happened is that American aid, legally under American law, is tied to American trade and commerce...

"There is not question of use trying to tie up British or American commercial interest with this."




WATCH AND LISTEN
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
"Iraq is going to be run by the Iraqi people"



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