LONDON – Gordon Brown launched his drive to become Britain’s next prime minister Friday, conceding that “mistakes have been made” in the war in Iraq and predicting that “the emphasis will shift” over the next several months.
Brown’s opening speech was designed to draw a line between himself and Prime Minister Tony Blair, his closest political ally but also his deepest rival. The 55-year-old treasury secretary sought to bask in their joint achievements at the head of the decade-old Labor government. At the same time, he attempted to sidestep the deep public ambivalence over the Iraq war that has played a major role in the party’s plummeting popularity.
Brown suggested that it was time in Iraq to shift away from military action and toward political reconciliation and economic development.
“Let’s be clear about this. It was a security and military policy which we always intended to be accompanied by political reconciliation, which has started to happen with the democratically elected government, and economic redevelopment,” he said. “There are too many people in Iraq who do not have a stake in the economic future … and therefore too many people who don’t feel loyalty to the regime.”
His statements provide an important window into America’s most important ally in Iraq and Afghanistan. Britain already has announced plans to begin slowly drawing down its 7,100 troops in Iraq, but the timing and dynamics of the withdrawal will be the decision of Britain’s next prime minister.
That leader almost certainly will be Brown. He likely will face at most a token challenge for leadership of the Labor Party. Because Labor holds the majority in Parliament, winning the party leadership would put him on track to become prime minister shortly after Blair steps down June 27. He would then serve at least through the next general elections, which must be held by 2010.