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Blair: 'Huge amount' achieved

Blair, left, and U.S. President George W. Bush at Camp David in September 2002
Blair, left, and U.S. President George W. Bush at Camp David in September 2002

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday a "huge amount already has been achieved" towards the goal of ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein through a U.S.-led war.

In five days, coalition forces are getting closer to Baghdad, the seat of Saddam's government, Blair told a news conference. He said forces had done more in five days than the coalition did in five weeks during the first Gulf War.

"So far, over the five days, the progress on the way to Baghdad has been exactly what we planned," he said.

Since the war began on Thursday Baghdad time, allies have advanced twice as far into Iraq as they did in 1991, when ground operations followed five weeks of aerial bombardment, he said.

He added: "Nobody, least of all the forces loyal to Saddam, should be in any doubt that the resistance will be broken down and that the goals of the coalition forces will be met."

Addressing Iraqis, Blair said: "This time we will not let you down. Saddam and his regime will be removed."

The United States and European nations, whose relations have suffered because of differences over the war, must begin working again "as partners, not as rivals," Blair said.

He added that the United Nations also must have a strong role in helping to rebuild Iraq after the war.

Asked about Turkey, Blair said he was convinced Ankara understood that Iraq's territorial integrity must be respected. (Turkey warned)

The United States has been concerned that a buildup of Turkish troops in northern Iraq could spark a conflict with Kurdish groups that control much of the area.

Blair also said humanitarian aid in Iraq was a key goal, and he stressed that any plight of the Iraqis was caused not by the war but by Saddam's ongoing policies.

Some 60 percent of Iraqis rely on food aid under the U.N.'s oil-for-food program and nearly half of the population in rural areas have no access to safe water, he said.

Blair said Britain and the United States want the oil-for-food program resumed as soon as possible.

In addition, he said a pipeline was being built to carry water from Kuwait to Basra in southern Iraq to ease the water supply problem.

Blair said he had received reports that 40 percent of the water supply in the city -- shut off for at least two days -- has been restored.

"We need to make it clear to people we're there to help them," he said.

Blair has been battling to persuade the British public to back the war against Iraq. A poll in the Guardian newspaper Tuesday suggested 54 percent of the public now backs a war, compared with 38 percent a week ago.

Opposition to the war has dropped to 30 percent over the past week from 44 percent, while Blair's personal rating has improved. But the Guardian said the poll showed that support could decline if there were serious military setbacks.

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