Tony Blair says he bears no responsibility for violence in Iraq

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday he bore no responsibility for the violence in Iraq, dismissing allegations from Britain's former ambassador to Iraq that Blair failed to focus on stabilizing the country immediately after the invasion.

Former Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's representative in Baghdad until 2004, said in a BBC television interview that Blair had wanted an Iraqi police force established within months of the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and was "tearing his hair" at the slow progress, the AP reports.

"But he didn't focus enough on the means of delivering what he wanted. He didn't perhaps quite concentrate enough on the instruments for delivering the final result that was needed in Iraq, and that's perhaps where he took his eye off the ball," Greenstock said, according to excerpts released Thursday of an interview for an upcoming British Broadcasting Corp. television documentary.

"No American general ... was given the accountable responsibility to make sure that the first duty of any government - and we were the government - was to keep law and order on the streets," Greenstock said. "There was a vacuum from the beginning into which the looters, the saboteurs, the criminals, the insurgents, moved very quickly."

Blair rejected suggestions that U.S.-led coalition forces were unprepared for the invasion's aftermath, particularly the sectarian violence, in a BBC radio interview Thursday.

"When we removed Saddam and his police and army, of course part of the establishment of repression, then we had to rebuild it," Blair said. "Where I don't agree with Jeremy is that no one was thinking about rebuilding it. We actually were."

"You were always going to have to build the Iraqi police and army from scratch," he said.

Blair blamed Iraqi insurgents - who he said are working with al-Qaida and other outside groups - for the violence in Iraq.

"I agree it is very difficult, but I can't take responsibility myself for people who are sending car bombs into a marketplace," he said.

"I don't think we should be apologizing at all for what we are doing in Iraq. We're trying to support the democrats against the terrorists," he added.

Blair laid out a proposal on Wednesday to withdraw about 1,600 troops from southern Iraq over the coming months and said he hoped to reduce Britain's 7,100-strong contingent further by late summer.

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