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Blair visits troops in Basra

By Atul Aneja

MANAMA Jan. 4. With the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq facing sustained resistance even after the capture of the former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, paid an unexpected visit to Iraq today to meet British troops.

Mr. Blair, a key ally of the U.S. President, George Bush, in the war in Iraq visited the southern city of Basra to meet British troops which number around 10,000.

Mr. Blair arrived in a special cargo aircraft from the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh where he was on vacation.

He was expected to address British troops later in the day and hold discussions with some members of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council of Iraq.

Mr. Blair's unannounced visit, similar to that of Mr. Bush in November, and the Spanish Premier, Jose Maria Aznar, in December comes at a time when the Iraqi resistance has shown no signs of slackening. Mr. Blair had last visited British troops in Basra in May.

Sustaining the momentum of their resistance, Iraqi guerilla fighters killed three American soldiers and wounded five others in two separate incidents on Friday.

Two U.S. soldiers died and three were injured in a bomb explosion, which was followed by small arms fire in Baghdad's Al Rashid district.

A mortar attack killed one American soldier and wounded two in Balad, north of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, hundreds of residents in Hadithah, northwest of Baghdad, protested against an overnight raid by U.S. forces.

Residents said that four people were killed in the raid.

The claim could not be confirmed and the U.S. military declined to comment.

Hadithah falls within the "Sunni Triangle," where large numbers of people support Mr. Hussein.

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