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Blair: Difficult Days Ahead in Iraq

Blair: Difficult Days Ahead in Iraq

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LONDON (AP) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, preparing for a hasty summit in Washington to discuss postwar Iraq, said Tuesday there are bound to be "difficult days ahead" for coalition forces.

"There will be resistance all the way to the end of this campaign," Blair said at his second news conference since the invasion against Saddam Hussein's regime began.

"There are those closest to Saddam that are resisting and will resist strongly. They are the elite that are hated by the local population and have little to lose.

"There are bound, therefore, to be difficult days ahead, but the strategy and its timing are proceeding according to plan," he said.

In five days of fighting, "a huge amount has already been achieved," he said, with British forces securing the port town of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. He added that they were engaging Iraqi combatants around Basra.

"Nobody, least of all the forces loyal to Saddam, should be in any doubt that the resistance will be broken down and that the goals of the coalition forces will be met," Blair said.

The U.S.-British strategy was "unfolding exactly according to plan," Blair said, and he denied that more troops were required. "We have the forces we need to do the job," he said.

"Iraq and its security apparatus exists to support the regime of Saddam Hussein. Nobody should be surprised therefore that there are parts of the armed forces determined to fight, for they know that when the regime falls, which it will, they will have nowhere to go," Blair said.

The prime minister said he would fly to Washington on Wednesday.

"I will see President Bush at Camp David to discuss not just the military campaign, but also the diplomatic implications of recent events for the future, in particular how we get America and Europe working again, not as rivals but as partners," Blair said.

Britain also confirmed its second combat death -- a soldier from the 1st Battalion Black Watch was killed overnight near Az Zubayr, close to Basra.

Air Marshall Brian Burridge, the senior British military officer in the Gulf, said British forces were trying to break the grip of ruling Baath Party militia and other forces loyal to Saddam.

"We've always known we've had to get at them, and we did that last night in Az Zubayr, we went to their headquarters and engaged in contact with them ... and made it quite clear to them: We, the British forces, are up for this, and you are going to have a very hard time," Burridge told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Col. Chris Vernon said British forces "saw an opportunity to go into Az Zubayr and take out a Baath party headquarters, seize one of the officials, inflict casualties on the irregular forces."

"We were in out within a few hours, successful operation," Vernon told Sky News television.

Burridge said an Iraqi armored column did try to move out of Basra overnight, "and 20 of them won't be going back because they had the attention of our artillery."

Earlier Tuesday, officials identified the first British combat fatality as Sgt. Steven Mark Roberts, 33, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, who was also killed at Az Zubayr.

Sixteen other British servicemen are known to have died in the conflict, including two jet crewmen shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile battery.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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