British defence secretary attends Basra conference
(dpa) - British Defence Secretary Des Browne, who arrived in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on a troop visit Wednesday, attended a conference on rehabilitating the city's ports.
British Ministry of Defence said Browne was on a "general visit" to the country, but declined to give further details.
Britain's remaining 4,100 troops in Iraq are confined to a base at Basra Air Station after handing over control of the city itself to local authorities in December.
Browne's participation in the conference on rehabilitating Basra's ports reflects his country's pledge to assist in economic regeneration in the province.
In an opening address, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said the deteriorating security situation was obstructing efforts to rehabilitate the port of Oum Qasr on the Gulf.
Armed gangs and law breakers conduct illegal activities and control the port, Salih told the congregation.
Absence of law and order is coupled with corruption, the minister said.
The fight on corruption and criminal gangs in the south of Iraq requires concerted efforts by the Iraqi army and police in coordination with the coalition forces, Salih added.
The minister proposed an increase in security forces at the port of Oum Qasr under the command of the Ministry of Interior to fight corruption, mismanagement and smuggling.