Iraqi officials say much work is needed to secure and restore the port of Umm Qasr in the oil-rich province of Basra. They charge criminals and corrupt officials have been working together to siphon off wealth while terrorists are sabotaging reconstruction. Daniel Schearf reports from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.
Iraq's government has held a conference in the southeast city of Basra Wednesday to discuss efforts at reconstructing the important port of Umm Qasr.
Iraqi officials say there are about 80 shipwrecks littering the coastal area and blocking shipping lanes that need to be removed. They say the port also needs to be dredged so larger ships can get closer for loading and unloading. They also want to almost double the tonnage of ships the port currently handles.
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said some improvements were being made, but criminal gangs and corrupt officials were colluding together, slowing their efforts.
Salah says gangs are stealing everything good in the area. He says all the government agencies need to work together to stop these bandits that corrupt the country's treasures and prevent the distribution of wealth for all Iraqis.
The British troops bombed Umm Qasr during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and took over security. Reconstruction efforts started almost immediately, but sabotage has slowed the work.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie is Iraq's National Security Advisor. He says corruption and bad elements in the port are one of the groups supporting terrorism in Iraq.
Residents of Basra say crime and terrorism have flourished since the Britain handed control back to Iraqi forces in December.
Thousands of people protested in Basra over the weekend demanding police do more to stop rampant crime and restore order.
Britain's Defense Secretary Des Browne made a surprise visit to Iraq Wednesday and pledged support at the conference, held at the Basra airport.
"The oil infrastructure and this magnificent airport we are in today and the port of Umm Qasr are potentially some of Iraq's most valuable assets," he said.
But Browne said they should not underestimate the challenges they are facing. He said it would require a strong commitment from the Iraqi government to achieve the minimum level of security required for international shipping codes. He said without that accreditation the big international shipping companies would refuse to use the port.
Britain still has about 4,000 troops in Iraq but is considering withdrawing a large portion in the coming months.