Iraq faces 'critical times' - British minister

Updated: 2006-11-20 10:02

LONDON - Iraq is facing "critical times" but progress is being made, a British Foreign Office minister said on Sunday during a trip to the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Kim Howells travelled to Basra to meet the governor, political leaders and members of the city's security committee, the Foreign Office said in a statement late on Sunday.

"These are critical times for Iraq. The Iraqi government, still only five months old, faces enormous challenges in building the new political culture and new institutions it needs to govern," Howells said in the statement.

Electricity supply and unemployment were high on the agenda of Basra's politicians, he said.

"Through Foreign Office and DFID (Department for International Development) programmes and the efforts of our military, we have made significant progress in helping to address these challenges," Howells said.

"But there is much more to do. I am keen to hear from local leaders how they see the way forward."

Howells was not the only British minister to pay Basra a visit over the weekend. Finance Minister Gordon Brown flew into Iraq for the first time on Saturday and pledged an extra 100 million pounds (US$188.7 million) to help rebuild the country.

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