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UK: 'Most serious' threat in Iraq

Straw: "The lid of the pressure cooker has come off."

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Motaq al-Sadr
Jack Straw

LONDON, England -- British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has acknowledged that the upsurge in violence against U.S.-led forces in Iraq represents the "most serious" threat the coalition has faced since the end of the war.

"There is no doubt that the current situation is very serious and it is the most serious that we have faced," Straw told BBC radio.

"The lid of the pressure cooker has come off, and some of the tensions and pressures which were there and would have come out in any event, have to a degree been directed towards the coalition," he said.

"I don't want to minimize the problems that we face, they are serious but they have to be seen in a context in which Saddam held Iraq in a reign of terror."

Asked whether he imagined a year ago that things would get as bad in Iraq as they have been over the last week, Straw said: "No I didn't. I thought that they would go from some good days and some bad days."

Straw, the first senior UK official to comment publicly on the state of events in Iraq for several days, also acknowledged that sizeable numbers of indigenous Iraqis were engaged in the insurgency.

"It is plainly the fact today that there are larger numbers of people, and they are people on the ground, Iraqis, not foreign fighters, who are engaged in this insurgency," the UK Press Association quoted Straw as saying.

Straw was asked whether the Americans had been wise to move against Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"I'm not going to second guess the judgments that were made. What I would say is that it was not the Americans who cast the first stone, either in Fallujah nor in the areas where they came under attack."

Straw was asked whether London had cautioned Washington not to move against al-Sadr's militias but to try to win them over.

"It is not true in the context in which you put it. What you have to do in these situations is have a twin-track approach, which involves a political approach and a military approach.

"We've had to do that in the quieter south of the country where British forces are in control. But if we faced a similar sized insurgency, then for sure, the British forces would have to take similar kinds of action."

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