Britain says the purging of former Saddam Hussein loyalists in Iraq was a mistake that has made the security situation in that country worse.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says the biggest error the U.S.-led coalition made was to ban members of the Baath party of Saddam Hussein from government and military positions in post-invasion Iraq.

He told British radio that, with the advantage of hindsight, things might have been handled differently.

"Of course, in this transition, some mistakes have been made, and probably the de-Baathification went too far," he said. "On the other hand, not only for coalition forces, but above all the Iraqis had to be assured that the people who were reappearing as police officers and still more as members of the armed forces, were not Saddamists, former regime elements in new uniforms."

The former U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, issued orders last year disbanding the Iraqi army and purging all government ministries of Baath party members.

Mr. Straw did not criticize the Bremer decisions, though he said there had been great debate between American and British officials about post-invasion policies.

In another development, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a U.S.-funded Iraqi television station that Iraqis should not be discouraged by the ongoing security problems.

"I would say have confidence and faith, because you will succeed," he said. "And these terrorists, these people represent the past and everything that is bad about the world. I know how tough the security must be because security is the most important thing that people want. But you can have security with freedom."

Mr. Blair said the Iraqi interim government that took power Monday has absolute and full sovereignty. He said coalition troops stand ready to help build up Iraqi security forces, but will stay in Iraq only as long as the Iraqi people want them there.