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Rice Gets a Cold Reception in England

Protesters follow the secretary of State during a visit with her British counterpart. She defends Iraq war but admits `tactical errors.'

April 01, 2006|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that she was sure the Bush administration had made "thousands" of tactical errors in Iraq, but defended the decision to oust Saddam Hussein and said she thought it would be vindicated by history.

Rice has been dogged by antiwar protesters throughout what was supposed to be primarily a social visit to northern England in the company of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. On Friday, she appeared reflective at an event sponsored by the foreign policy think tank Chatham House, asserting that the invasion of Iraq was meant to set the stage for democratic reforms in the Middle East.

"I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I'm sure," Rice said, responding to a question from Rosemary Hollis, a Middle East expert at Chatham House, formerly known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, about the lessons the United States had learned. "But when you look back in history, what will be judged will be, did you make the right strategic decisions?"

Earlier, the secretary said: "I believe strongly that it was the right strategic decision that Saddam had been a threat to the international community long enough ... that you were not going to have a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein at the center of it."

Hollis said afterward that she would have liked to question Rice more closely about what the secretary meant by "tactical errors" and how the Bush administration planned to apply the lessons it had learned. Rice had traveled to the northwestern city of Blackburn, Straw's constituency, and also looked in on Liverpool, the hometown of the Beatles, after Straw promised to introduce her to the real Britain. The trip was in reciprocation for Straw's visit, at her invitation, to her hometown of Birmingham, Ala., last year.

At least some Britons wished Rice had stayed home. A planned visit to a mosque was canceled at the last minute, and her tour of a school had to take place through the side entrance because antiwar protesters were stationed at the front.

"Bullies not allowed," read one placard directed at Rice.

The number of antiwar protesters was not huge, but large enough to shadow Rice throughout the day. Several hundred assembled in Blackburn, and in the evening in Liverpool, more than 1,000 people walked behind a mock coffin from a Catholic cathedral to the philharmonic hall where Rice was to attend a concert.

"When I found out she was coming here to speak to our children, I didn't want her to preach what she did in Iraq, " said Rabiya Adam, 33, a mother of five interviewed at one of the protests in Blackburn.

Rafiq Patel, principal of the Muslim Youth Center in Blackburn, said that Rice's scheduled visits to an Islamic school and the mosque were arranged without consulting the people of Blackburn or the full board of governors of the school.

"We think it was right to cancel her visit to the mosque because we see the coalition forces as responsible for so many lives lost," Patel said.

"So we felt a mosque was not an appropriate place for her to visit, that it would give the wrong message. There have been so many mosques bombed in Iraq and so many children deprived of an education there."

He said, however, that the community in Blackburn would not be averse to talking to Rice in general.

"We would welcome a dialogue in her own country, or anywhere outside of the mosque," he said.


Times staff writer Janet Stobart in London contributed to this report.

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