Minister begins Iraq visit

Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells has arrived in Iraq on a three-day visit to Basra.

His visit will focus on the oil sector, although he will also meet local Iraqi and British officials.

Dr Howells said: "Since my last visit, the Iraqi people have turned out in their millions to agree a new constitution and elect a new parliament. Next week, that parliament is expected to meet for the first time. It has big challenges before it, not least overseeing the appointment of, and then holding accountable, a government of national unity which reflects and protects the rich diversity of the Iraqi people. In doing so, it will have the continued support of the UK.”

Commenting on the reasons for his visit, Dr Howells said: "Looking forward, management of the oil sector will be a critical for Iraq. Their reserves, the fourth largest reserves in the world, have the potential to provide the Iraqi people with long-term growth and prosperity. I am here to see first hand what progress is being made.”

On the security situation he added: "In 2006 we will also take important decisions on the handover of security. Iraqi security forces are already increasingly in the lead. We are approaching the point where responsibility for security in whole provinces can be handed over. Decisions will be based on conditions on the ground. To understand those conditions there is no substitute for being here."


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