Two British soldiers killed by Iraq bomb

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Two British soldiers died in a roadside bombing as they patrolled near the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the Ministry of Defence said. The deaths bring to 111 the total of British troops killed in Iraq since the American-led invasion.

The attack, in which another British soldier was also injured, happened late on Saturday night while the soldiers carried out a routine patrol north of Basra. All three soldiers were from the Royal Anglian Regiment. In a statement, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said that he was "deeply saddened" to hear of the deaths.

But he said that now was not the time for British troops to be pulled out of the country, where the conflict is spiralling out of control.

"Despite these incidents, which are tragic and very sad, we are making progress", he told the BBC. "We shall continue to serve the Iraqi people ... for as long as they ... want us to."

"We are helping them to build capacity - both militarily and in security terms, and in terms of governance - to govern and secure their own oil," he added. "When the time is right we shall draw down our troops."

The deadly explosion was one of a string of blasts to hit Iraq over the weekend, in which at least 26 people died and nearly 70 were injured. A double-suicide car bomb attack at a main checkpoint on a road leading to Baghdad's international airport killed at least 14 Iraqis and wounded six yesterday. Another 12 Iraqis were killed by four roadside bombs, three targeting Iraqi police patrols, another exploding in a market.

Six small Shia shrines also were damaged in a series of blasts around the Baquba, a mixed Sunni Arab-Shia region where sectarian tensions are running high.