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Blair: Troops closing on Baghdad

Marching to war: British Royal Marines in southern Iraq.
Marching to war: British Royal Marines in southern Iraq.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Allied forces are closing in on Baghdad but could soon encounter a Republican Guard division guarding the city, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says.

He told the British Parliament that the war objectives would lead to humanitarian help for Iraq's "brutalized" people and a peaceful future.

Blair said Monday: "There will be anxious moments in the days ahead but coalition victory is certain."

Blair was in the House of Commons to report back on the outcome of last week's European Union leaders' summit, but most of his time was devoted to Iraq.

He said coalition forces were 60 miles south of Baghdad and that two key bridges over the River Euphrates south of the capital have been taken intact.

"This is of critical significance. It is a little way from there that they will encounter the Medina division of the Republican Guard who are defending the route to Baghdad. This will be a crucial moment," Blair said.

Allied troops are in control of southern oil fields, he said, and Basra is surrounded with only pockets of resistance remaining in the city.

"The strategy and timing are proceeding according to plan," Blair said.

"Iraq is a nation degraded and brutalized, a country that should be rich but whose people go hungry and whose children die needlessly.

"Saddam will go. His regime will be replaced and the Iraqi people will be helped to a better future without weapons of mass destruction."

Blair will travel to Washington this week to meet with President Bush and discuss strategy for the war in Iraq, administration and diplomatic sources have told CNN.

The meeting is all but certain to take place at the presdential retreat in Maryland, Camp David, and could take place as early as Thursday, these sources say.

At the EU summit, disagreements over the conflict remained, Blair said, but EU leaders were united in providing support and humanitarian aid for post-war Iraq.

Blair said EU nations agreed that the U.N. oil-for-food program should be restarted and that Iraq's oil riches should be used to build a prosperous post-Saddam nation.

The EU also wants a concentrated effort to secure peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, he said.

CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley said Blair's comments about post-war Iraq and the Palestinians would play well with his backbench MPs, many of whom have serious doubts about the war.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon earlier lashed out at Iraqi forces for the "surge of Iraqi propaganda" over the last few days and the "disgusting treatment and exploitation of American prisoners of war." (Full story)

Hoon said those were the actions of a "desperate regime" that knows its time is coming to an end.

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