By Gerry J. Gilmore
Dec. 10, 2006 – An early withdrawal of U.S. and British forces from Iraq before the Iraqis can stand on their own could produce serious consequences for the region, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on ABC's "This Week" television news show today. Therefore, "I think we've got to plan to succeed," Blair told "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos. "And, I think that if we start saying to the people that we're fighting in Iraq that we're ready to get out, irrespective of the success of the mission, I think that would be very serious."
There are now about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. About 7,000 British troops are stationed in southern Iraq.
Blair told Stephanopoulos that sending more troops to Iraq now doesn't make much sense, noting the Iraqi security forces aren't yet ready to assume full responsibility.
"The problem is this. If, when you surge the American forces, the Iraqi capability isn't there to come in behind it, then your respite is only temporary," Blair said.
"I think you've got to build the Iraqi capability," the prime minister said, "I think this is the key thing."
Blair acknowledged the stakes in Iraq are high, noting there's no question in his mind about the necessity of defeating extremism there and across the region.
"My point is not that there's any doubt about either the strength of our cause or, in a sense, the worth of our mission," Blair said. "What we've got to do is get the right strategy to achieve it."
During his national radio address yesterday, President Bush said he and Blair discussed the sectarian violence in Iraq and the Iraq Study Group report during breakfast Dec. 7.
Bush also said he and Blair agree the sectarian violence seen in Iraq is the result of a deliberate strategy employed by extremists, including al Qaeda, who are bent on destroying the new Iraqi government before it can get onto its feet.
"People are deliberately creating a situation of destabilization in Iraq," Blair told Stephanopoulos today.
Failure in Iraq is no option, the prime minister said.
"Well, I think, to be absolutely blunt about it, we have to make sure that this works," Blair said. "And, I don't think, at the moment, this is a time to start hypothesizing if it doesn't work.
"It's got to be made to work because the consequences, as they rightly say, of strategic failure are immense," he said.
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