Blair Defends US Military Strategy

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Byline: By Gavin Cordon

Tony Blair yesterday defended US tactics in the Iraqi city of Fallujah where American forces have been engaged in fierce fighting with Sunni militants.

Mr Blair told MPs at Prime Minister's Questions that the US military strategy was "essentially right".

The Americans' decision to take on the militants was sharply criticised in a letter this week by 52 former British diplomats attacking the Government's support for US policy in Iraq and the Middle East.

Mr Blair insisted that US troops had the right to defend themselves in the face of attacks by heavily armed insurgents.

"Of course, if it is the case that American soldiers are being fired on, American soldiers are going to have to fire back and take action to make sure these insurgents, these former regime elements and terrorists, can't disrupt the political process," he said.

The Prime Minister said that the "vast bulk" of the population in Fallujah wanted the militants to lay down their arms so that a peaceful settlement could be negotiated.

He was attacked by senior Tory backbencher Sir Peter Tapsell who demanded to know whether the "murder or mutilation of hundreds of women and children" was an "appropriate response" to the murder of four American contractors in the city.

Mr Blair was also involved in heated exchanges with Michael Howard. He questioned the Tory leader's support for the military action in Iraq after Mr Howard tried to press him on the diplomats' letter.

Mr Howard insisted he did support the Government over action in Iraq, adding: "But if you think that somehow disqualifies me from asking perfectly legitimate and relevant questions about what is happening in Iraq now, then you grossly misunderstand the nature of our parliamentary democracy. …