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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 March 2006, 14:27 GMT
Minister admits Iraq is 'a mess'
Kim Howells
Kim Howells said Iraq is not descending into civil war
UK foreign office minister Kim Howells has admitted the situation in Iraq is "a mess" but said Iraq's prospects were better than media reports suggested.

Mr Howells, who is visiting the country to examine the oil industry, played down fears of a civil war.

He said Iraq was undergoing a "very, very painful process" and praised how ordinary Iraqis were adapting to the country's changes.

He said Iraq was also no longer in a position to harm other countries.

Trust in Iraqis

"People describe Iraq as a mess," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"But it is a mess that can't launch an attack now on Iran; a mess that won't be able to march into Kuwait; it's a mess that can't develop nuclear weapons. So yes it's a mess but it's starting to look like the sort of mess that most of us live in."

I have been hearing that civil war was going to break out that evening or the following morning for as long as I can remember now and it hasn't happened
Foreign office minister Kim Howells

He said what was happening in the country was not reflected in media reports.

"I have been hearing that civil war was going to break out that evening or the following morning for as long as I can remember now and it hasn't happened.

"We have got to have some trust in the Iraqi people to understand, as they certainly do, that those who are trying to promote civil war, through their suicide bombings and their kidnapping and the rest of the terrible tactics, are there for a particular purpose."

Mr Howells said that Britain had to take the good news from Iraq along with the bad news.

He also dismissed recent complaints by conservative figures in the US.

Norman Kember
Norman Kember has been held hostage in Iraq for more than 100 days

"I would never take my guidance from swivel-eyed right-wing Americans and I'm surprised that anybody ever did.

"I do not look to them to continue the fight for democracy and to rebuild a nation in Iraq any more than I would look at some left-wing loony," he said.

"This is a job that has to be done; these are the materials we have got to deal with; and they are great materials. We've just got to get on with it now."

Mr Howells also called for an Iraqi group to release British peace campaigner, who has been held for more than 100 days and whose colleague Tom Fox, 54, was found dead in a suburb of Baghdad on Friday.

Asked if Mr Fox's killing meant hope was fading for Mr Kember, 72, he said: "I really hope not.

"They were dedicated to helping other people and we still make a plea to the kidnappers to free them immediately.

"It is terribly worrying."


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