Beckett ups Iraq aid

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Britain's total spending on aid for Iraq will be raised by £100 million, foreign secretary Margaret Beckett has announced.

Speaking at an international conference on Iraq in Egypt's Sharm-El-Sheikh resort, Ms Beckett said total UK spending on Iraqi aid would now reach £744 million.

She said the money would help the Iraqi government obtain "security and services" throughout the Middle Eastern country but warned that significant "challenges" had to be tackled.

An ongoing insurgency against the presence of coalition troops and rising levels of sectarian violence have prevented progress in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was ousted from power in 2003.

Foreign leaders are placing renewed emphasis on cooperation between regional players like Iran and Syria in reducing levels of violence. Tomorrow the US diplomats will meet with these countries, ending years of strained diplomatic relations.

"I welcome the neighbours meeting tomorrow which I hope will help build practical cooperation between Iraq and the region," Ms Beckett added.

Today's conference focuses on the international compact with Iraq, originally announced last July at the United Nations headquarters in New York, which seeks to establish a "partnership with the international community".

Opening the ceremony today, prime minister Nouri al-Maliki asked for debt relief for his country.

"We call on all the friends and brothers participating in this conference to forgive Iraq all its debts in order to enable it to start the projects," he said.

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