Blair holds line, but which one?

Tony Blair said yesterday he "agreed with every word" Army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt had said in a radio interview about the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tony Blair said yesterday he "agreed with every word" Army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt had said in a radio interview about the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But he refused to discuss another interview Sir Richard gave a national newspaper in which he said British troops were "exacerbating" tensions.

The comments in the paper have been seen as an unprecedented broadside against Government policy, and the General was forced throughout yesterday to play down any rift.

Mr Blair told a press conference he had received a "report" about the newspaper article, and Sir Richard was "plainly not" saying that troops should be withdrawn from Iraq now.

"I have to say to you I've read his transcript of his interview on the radio this morning, and I agree with every word of it.

"If you read the transcript of the interview on the radio this morning and the television, he sets in proper context exactly what he was saying.

"And if I can just take one example of why it's important these things are in context, what he is saying about wanting the British forces out of Iraq is precisely the same as what we're all saying."

Sir Richard, who became Chief of the General Staff in August, told the paper we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems".

He indicated that the Government's aim of creating a liberal democracy in Iraq was "naive" and would not be achieved.

Britain had "effectively kicked the door in" when troops entered during the 2003 military campaign, he said. "Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance."

But Mr Blair refused to address those statements head-on last night, despite repeated questions, preferring instead to talk about Sir Richard's toned-down comments on BBC Radio 4's Today programme and on television.

The PM, who said he had been working on Northern Ireland rather than dealing with fallout from the comments, corrected himself several times over which interview he was discussing. Downing Street says Sir Richard has Mr Blair's full support.

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