Blair Backs U.S. on Control of Troops in Iraq
Media Storm Finds British Prime Minister Backing Away From Statement About Operations
By Andrew Cawthorne
Thursday, May 27, 2004; Page A25
LONDON, May 26 -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair sought Wednesday to suppress talk of a split with the United States over Iraq, saying foreign troops' operations should stay under U.S. command after an interim Iraqi government takes over.
"We are both absolutely agreed there should be full sovereignty transferred to the Iraqi people and that the multinational force should remain under American command," he told Parliament.
On Tuesday, he surprised some officials in Washington by saying Iraqis would have a veto over operations such as the recent attacks on Fallujah. That prompted Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to fire back that American forces would stay under U.S. command.
As reporters and opposition politicians in London highlighted what appeared to be the first open sign of division between London and Washington since the Iraq war began, Blair countered that he was still in line with President Bush.
"The ultimate strategic and political decision-making passes to the Iraqi government after the 30th of June. . . . Once strategic decisions have been made, the running of any operations is under the military forces and the commanders of those forces," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott labeled talk of an Anglo-American split "complete rubbish."
Powell said Tuesday that the United States "would take into account" the Iraqis' views on political and military issues. "Ultimately, however, if it comes down to the United States armed forces protecting themselves or in some way accomplishing their mission in a way that might not be in total consonance with what the Iraqi interim government might want to do at a particular moment in time, U.S. forces remain under U.S. command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves," he said.
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