PM thanks troops in Iraq


Thursday  May 29, 2003

It is really good of you to have me here today. I would just like to express the sense of pride that everybody has in Britain over the magnificent job you have done. I know there were a lot of disagreements in the country about the wisdom of my decision to order the action, but I can assure you of one thing, there is absolutely no dispute in Britain at all about your professionalism, and your courage and your dedication, and not just the way you won the war, which was extraordinary, but the way you are conducting the peace, which is remarkable. The taking of the al-Faw Peninsular and then the taking of Basra in the way it was done, with the minimum loss of civilian life, is famous right round the world now, and you should know that you have brought tremendous honour on our country, and respect and admiration everywhere for the way that you did that. And I know too this was real war, this wasn't the pretend stuff that happens in films, it was real war, it was real bloodshed and real casualties. And there will be people you will have known that aren't going back home, and we grieve for them and we pay respect to them for everything they did and the sacrifice that they made.

And I just wanted to tell you very quickly the two things that I think have come out of this that are going to be important not just for this country but for the whole of the world. The first is in Iraq itself. You will know, having talked to local people and having been on the streets in Basra, you will know the sheer misery of the tyranny they lived under. And there are people here who in years to come will look back and will remember what you did, and recognise that as the start of their future and a life of hope and the possibility of prosperity. You probably know this country - Iraq - is one of the wealthiest countries potentially in the world, and yet its people live in appalling poverty. Now in the years to come, as a result of what we have done, they can rebuild their country, and we have got to help them do that, and the liberation from Saddam is one huge thing, a momentous and a mighty act for the people of Iraq which you did, and of which you can be proud.

But something else is happening right throughout the whole of this region. You know I think that this area of the world has been the source of probably more instability, more terrorism, more difficulty in managing world affairs than any other region in the world. And it is interesting to me to talk for example to the leaders of the Gulf countries, most recently last night in Kuwait, and see the changes that they can see happening in their countries as a result of the removal of Saddam's dictatorship from Iraq. You can see in relation to countries like Syria and Iran, where we have still got big issues we need to discuss with them and we need to resolve with them, and yet we can do that now in a completely different atmosphere than was possible a few months ago. And you can see it too in the Middle East peace process in what is happening in Israel and Palestine, where for the first chance now in several years there is just the beginnings of the hope of a different way forward for the future. And all of that has arisen out of this action and what you did. And I would like to think that maybe in a year or two years time it is going to be possible for some of you to come back here and see the changes in this country that have arisen from what you have done today. Because in a way what you did I think serves as a model of how Armed Forces anywhere in the world should conduct themselves. You fought the battle and you won the battle and you fought it with great courage and valour. But it didn't stop there. You then went on to try and make something of the country that you had liberated, and I think that is a lesson for Armed Forces everywhere the world over. And the other thing I think will be very clear is that when people look back on this time and look back on this conflict, I honestly believe they will see this as one of the defining moments of our century. And you did it. It was your courage and your professionalism that did it.

And I just wanted to say to you, because I know people back home, you know you will read lots in the media and the newspapers, I just want to say this to you. People back home are incredibly proud of what you have done. You have made this whole country, our country, hold its head up high, and I think that is a wonderful, wonderful achievement. It is your achievement and thank you.


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