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« on: 2006-03-05 14:59:05 »
God will judge me on Iraq, says Blair
[b]Authors: Philip Webster, London
BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair has claimed he will be judged by God and history over taking Britain to war in Iraq.
Lifting the veil on the influence of religion in his life, Mr Blair said he had to live with the decision he made over Iraq and with his conscience.
In the end there would be a judgment, he said, but "if you have faith about these things then you realise that judgment is made by other people".
Asked by television interviewer Michael Parkinson what he meant by that, Mr Blair replied: "By other people. If you believe in God, it is made by God as well ... "
Faced with decisions about people's lives and in some cases their deaths, he said, "the only way you can take a decision like that is to try to do the right thing, according to your conscience. and for the rest of it you leave itto the judgment that history will make".
Mr Blair's remarks, to be screened overnight on British television, may cause discomfort among some in his party and in Britain who were opposed to war.
British politicians have traditionally been highly cautious about suggesting any religious influence on their decisions.
The comments came as reports in Britain said all coalition troops serving in Iraq would be withdrawn within a year in an effort to bring peace and stability to the country.
The planned pullout from Iraq follows the acceptance by London and Washington that the presence of the coalition, mainly comprising British and US troops, is now seen as the main obstacle to peace, Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper said.
According to a senior defence source directly involved in planning the withdrawal, Britain is the driving force behind the scheme, the paper said.
Early next year has been identified as the optimum time for the start of the complex and dangerous operation.
The source told the paper troop numbers were expected to decrease slightly over the next 12months but that the bulk of British and US forces, who make up 138,000 of the coalition's 153,000 troops, would be withdrawn simultaneously.
"The British Government is understood to be the driving force behind the withdrawal plan but all 24 coalition members are likely to welcome the move, given the growing international unpopularity of the war," the paper said.
Tensions in Iraq have soared over the past two weeks as fighting between the main Muslim sects has intensified.
The recent sectarian violence has provoked fears the country is on the brink of civil war, a scenario that could greatly complicate the role of foreign troops.
If civil war broke out it would be likely to cause the withdrawal plan to be postponed.
In the television interview, Mr Blair also spoke of his admiration for former US president Bill Clinton, "the best politician as a politician I have ever come across", and his "easy and straightforward" relationship with current US President George W.Bush.
Mr Blair also revealed it was religion that sparked his interest in politics.
"There were people at university who got me into politics," he said. "I kind of got into religious politics at the same time in a way and until the age of about 20 I really wasn't interested in politics at all."