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Blair: Shadow of Saddam removed

Blair: "Saddam is gone from power, he will not be coming back."

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Tony Blair has called Saddam Hussein's capture good news for Iraqis, saying: "It removes the shadow that has been hanging over them for too long of the nightmare of a return to the Saddam regime."

In a statement Sunday, the UK prime minister said: "I pay tribute to the work of the coalition intelligence and military forces in capturing him."

Later, in a televised address, he said: "Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people in Iraq.

"Saddam is gone from power, he won't be coming back -- that the Iraqi people know and it is them who will decide his fate."

Blair, America's closest ally in the war in Iraq, added: "It gives us an opportunity to take a step forward in Iraq. In particular I appeal for the Sunni community and former Baathist officials to grasp the opportunity for reconciliation.

"We should try now to unite the whole of Iraq in rebuilding the country and offering it a new future."

Blair had a telephone conversation with Bush -- presumably about the capture of Saddam -- shortly before his television address, sources at 10 Downing Street said.

The prime minister flew back to the UK from a summit in Brussels Saturday.

Member of Parliament Ann Clwyd, Blair's special representative to Iraq, said the news was "a wonderful Christmas present".

"Certainly for the people of Iraq it is terrific news because they needed to know that Saddam was not going to come back in any shape or form," she told UK broadcaster Sky News.

"That has always been the fear, that he would regain power again so that is fantastic news. And for people terrorized by Saddam's regime for over 30 years this brings some kind of closure to the whole terrible episode."

George Galloway, who was expelled from Blair's Labour Party for his views on the war, warned that Saddam's capture might "inflame" opposition to the U.S. in Iraq.

"It might be seized upon by the prime minister as something to laugh about, but I very much doubt if it will be the last laugh," he told the BBC.

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