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Blair Visits Iraq As Attack Kills 22

British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a surprise first visit to Baghdad Tuesday amidst intense security.

In an act of political bravado, Blair flew into the center of Baghdad saying he wanted to send a strong signal of backing for the election despite an upsurge in bloodshed and Sunday's killing of three Iraqi Electoral Commission officials.

As well as seeing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Blair, whose ratings have sunk over his strong alliance with the United States over Iraq, met top US officials in Baghdad and election commission members.

"Whatever people felt about the original conflict, we the British aren't a nation of quitters," Blair told a joint news conference with Allawi. "What's very obvious to me is that the Iraqi people here, they're not going to quit on this task either. They're going to see it through."

Also Tuesday, an artillery attack on a US and Iraqi base near the northern city of Mosul killed 22 people and wounded 50, military sources said.

"At 12 PM today an explosion occurred at a US military installation in Mosul causing multiple casualties," a military statement said. "The cause of the explosion is under investigation."

At the Pentagon, a Defence Department official said the rocket and missile attack, which was believed to have hit a dining hall, killed 22 people and injured 50.

The base is used jointly by the US military and the interim Iraqi government's security forces.

Before the deadly attack, US warplanes launched air strikes on the town of Hit, in Iraq's Sunni Muslim western region, killing four people and wounding seven, hospital officials said.

Hospital staff said a woman and child were among those wounded in the strikes on the Jamaiya and Sinai districts, on the eastern edges of the town, which lies about 170 kilometers west of Baghdad.

In the United States, a majority of Americans now say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, a view that has driven down the ratings of President George W. Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Monday.
Fifty-six percent of those questioned, a new high, said that the cost of the war outweighs the benefits and is not worth it. It marked a gain of 7 percentage points from a poll conducted in July.

Fifty-seven percent said they disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, and 53 percent disapprove of the way Rumsfeld is handling his job, according to the survey. However, 60 percent said the Iraqi elections scheduled for January 30 should go forward regardless of the security situation.

(China Daily December 22, 2004)

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