TONY Blair today said large numbers of Iraqis were waiting to revolt against Saddam Hussein, amid reports of an uprising in Basra.

Speaking in the Commons, the Prime Minister said it was important for allied forces to give support to ordinary Iraqis desperate to topple their "repressive" President.

Mr Blair confirmed there had been a limited uprising in Basra but at this stage the picture in Iraq's second city remained unclear.

He told MPs: "There are large numbers of people waiting to see whether their greatest hopes can be realised and the regime fall.

"When that is clear I think they will take action themselves and we must be ready to help the, although that may be some time off.

"Once people know Saddam's grip on power has been weakened , they wish to opt for freedom not oppression."

He added: "It is important we give support to these people in Iraq who are rising up to overthrow Saddam and his totally repressive regime."

But Mr Blair said any decision on Allied forces assisting the Iraqi people must rest with commanders on the ground who know the full facts.

He also paid tribute to British serviceman who have already lost their lives in the conflict - including two soldiers killed when their Challenger tank was hit in a "friendly fire" incident during fighting early on Tuesday.

During Prime Minister's questions, he was repeatedly pressed on his visit this afternoon to Washington.

MPs are keen for him to secure a publication date for the "roadmap" for peace in the Middle East and the settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Top of the agenda with President George W. Bush will be humanitarian aid for Iraq and plans for a post-Saddam era.

But Mr Blair will also push the president on the need to re-build the US relationship with Europe.

UK officials say military strategy is not a priority for the discussions, despite the looming battle for Baghdad and continuing fighting involving coalition forces across southern Iraq.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said while the two leaders will go through their military tactics, they will also be looking at how to engage the UN in organising humanitarian relief, and to "restore Iraq to the community of nations".

This would include involving "countries not involved in the conflict" and other international aid agencies, said Mr Hoon.

"I am concerned that the UN will be involved. There may be a discussion about precisely how that will be organised,"

Mr Blair will spend this evening and most of Thursday with the president at his Camp David retreat.

The prime minister will then meet United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York.