21 April 2004
There has been swift condemnation from the British government of the devastating car bomb attacks that left at least 68 dead and scores injured in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
The Basra region is under control of British troops in the U.S.-led coalition. The attacks marked the bloodiest to hit the city since the conflict began more than a year ago.
The car bombs that exploded around police stations in the predominantly Shia city appear to have opened a new chapter in the war against terrorists in the southern part of the country.
Many of the victims were children who were being bused to nearby schools.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned the bombers and what he described as the senseless loss of life.
"These vicious attacks were deliberately targeted on those Iraqis who are working hard on building a new future for their fellow countrymen and countrywomen," he said. "Those responsible clearly have no respect for the lives of their fellow Iraqi Muslims and care nothing for the people of Iraq."
Despite the attacks, Mr. Straw emphasized that the planned June 30 transfer of political power will not be affected.
Later in Parliament, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain's commitment in Iraq will remain and its resolve is unshaken.
"Let us be clear, that the majority of Iraqi people want a stable and democratic Iraq," he said. "These terrorists want to stop them and we, all of us in the international community, have to join with that majority in Iraq to make sure that the terrorists do not succeed and democracy prevails."
In light of the attacks, Mr. Blair was asked if Britain would be sending in more forces. "We are satisfied that we have sufficient troops in Basra," he said. "We do not have plans to increase them. Of course, we always have to keep that situation under review, but at the present time, the British troops are managing actually extremely well down there."
The Ministry of Defense says Britain has about 7,500 troops in Iraq at present.