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Coalition to wage war until Saddam's regime ends

WASHINGTON—Amid signs that the war in Iraq may be more difficult and take longer than expected, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed Thursday to wage it as long as it takes to end Saddam Hussein's regime.

Bush said the length of the war "isn't a matter of timetable. It's a matter of victory. Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes."

The two war leaders spoke after a strategy meeting at Camp David. They agreed the United Nations should have a role in post-conflict Iraq, but they did not say what that role would be.

The Bush administration has made clear that U.S. officials will lead the postwar occupation of Iraq and they do not intend to turn over the reins to the United Nations.

Blair, in contrast, has echoed European opinion that the United Nations must play a large and visible role to help legitimize the effort.

On Thursday, Blair spoke to the issue, while Bush did not.

"Contrary to a lot of the comment on this," Blair said, he and Bush remain united on how to approach postwar Iraq.

"We will work with the U.N., our allies and partners and bilateral donors," Blair said. "We will seek new U.N. Security Council resolutions to affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, to ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq."

Separately, Bush promised he would issue a "road map" soon outlining how to achieve a peaceful two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Blair praised Bush for that commitment, saying "we had an excellent discussion of the Middle East, and we both share a complete determination to move this forward."

Many critics of the U.S.-British war in Iraq say a better way to end conflict between the Arab world and the West would be for the United States to work harder to resolve the Israel-Palestinian issue. In Blair's effort to quell his own critics in Britain and Europe, he has pressed Bush on this point.

Blair said the plan would be released after the Palestinian legislature's confirmation of Mahmoud Abbas as prime minister.

Asked why they did not have more support from longtime allies in this war, Bush said "we've got a huge coalition," one he boasted "is larger than the one assembled in 1991" for the first Persian Gulf War by his father, former President George Bush.

But while the president says 48 nations have joined his "coalition of the willing" to topple Saddam, that list includes only four that are active in combat: the United States, Britain, Australia and Poland.

In 1991, 32 countries contributed troops, military vessels or vehicles, and another eight provided medical personnel or chemical-warfare specialists.

The meeting of the allied war leaders at Camp David, the secluded presidential retreat in Maryland, came 60 years after a similar meeting between U.S. and British leaders. In May 1943, in the depths of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the retreat, then called Shangri-La.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): bush+blair