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22.05.2006 Middle East

Blair flies in to Baghdad

Blair flies in to Baghdad

PRIME Minister Tony Blair today flew into Baghdad for a surprise visit to mark the formation of a new Iraqi government pledged to defeat terrorism.

Mr Blair's visit to the capital's heavily-fortified Green Zone had been shrouded in secrecy, as deadly violence continued to provide the grim backdrop to the new administration - only agreed after months of bitter wrangling between rival factions.

The premier will meet his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri Maliki, for talks and the two leaders are expected to hold a joint press conference later today.

On Saturday, Mr Blair hailed the formation of the government as a "huge step forward" after Mr Maliki's ministers were sworn in before a parliament elected by more than 12million Iraqi voters.

The British Prime Minister flew into the Green Zone by helicopter for his second visit to Iraq's capital city early this morning.

The Prime Minister was determined to show his support for the new national unity government, despite the obvious security risks.

His hair-raising helicopter ride into Baghdad followed days of bloodshed surrounding the formation of the new administration, with dozens killed and injured in a string of suicide and roadside bombs and drive-by shootings.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "Iraq now has a democratically-elected government which is there for a four-year term, is made up of all the different groupings within Iraq and it is very much dictating the agenda.

"We are here to show our support for that democratic government and to help it take charge of its own destiny."