Blair arrived on a special military cargo plane from Egypt where he was on holiday. Journalists were flown in secret from London to Egypt to accompany him.

It was Blair's second visit to Iraq since British forces invaded and occupied Iraq alongside US occupation troops in March 2003.

Blair told British soldiers they were the "new pioneers of soldiering in the 21st century", fighting against threats of
terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and brutal regimes.

Debt of gratitude

The prime minister predicted that Iraqis would be forever grateful to them for the invasion of their country.

"People in this country will look back on what you've done and recognise that they owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude"

UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair

"Part of the pride people feel in you is the knowledge that in years to come, people in this country will look back on
what you've done and recognise that they owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude," Blair said.

Blair said world security was threatened by the "virus of
Islamic extremism" and "brutal and repressive states which are developing weapons that can cause destruction on a massive scale." Such states were a "huge liability for the whole security of the world," he added

Outrage

Leading British Muslims reacted with fury at Blair's speech.

Massoud Shadjareh, Chair of the Islamic Human Right's Commission told Aljazeera.net it was time for Blair to make up his mind about his views on Muslims and Islam.

"Is Blair Islamaphobic or does he understand Islam as he says that he does? He boasts about having read the Quran seven times and having a good understanding of the religion, and then he comes up with offensive rubbish like this.

"To me it's very clear that he sees Muslims as a problem, and his Islamaphobic comments back that up"

About 10,000 British troops
are in Iraq 

Anas al-Tikriti, a British Iraqi and spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Britain told Aljazeera.net the prime minister's comments about the greatest threat to world security were way off the mark.

"Blair's views are highly offensive and inaccurate. The greatest threat to the world's security is the imperialistic neo-fascist policies coming out of the White House and Downing Street."

Al-Trikriti said Blair's visit exposed the flaws in British and American claims that Iraq had been liberated and was a better and safer country since Saddam Hussein was removed from power.

"Let me make it clear, no Iraqi is sad to see the back to Saddam, but the fact that Blair flew into the country in the back of a cargo plane and his visit in secret shows that the occupation soldiers don't have a grip on what's going on in the country in terms of day to day security.

"Both Bush and Blair have been sneaking around in Iraq, it's hardly the kind of behaviour one would expect from the liberators."

First visit

Blair's first visit, in May, was in part overshadowed by media reports back home accusing his Labour government of hyping intelligence about banned Iraqi intelligence to justify the case for war.

British troops have been occupying southern Iraq near the second city Basra, after leading the assault on the area in the first days of the war last March.

The area, populated mainly by majority Shias, has seen less violence than mainly Sunni areas north of Baghdad where occupying US forces frequently come under attack.

Britain sent about 45,000 troops to the Gulf at the height of the conflict, the largest British military deployment since the Korean War, 50 years ago.