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Rice Defends US Actions in Iraq


Anti-war protesters greeted U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a second day, as she continued her visit to the northwestern British town of Blackburn. Secretary Rice said the United States has made mistakes in Iraq, but it was not a mistake to oust Saddam Hussein or push for democracy in the Middle East.

About 200 angry protesters shouted and waved banners outside the Blackburn townhall, as Secretary Rice arrived to meet with local Muslim leaders. Blackburn, a dreary industrial town in Britain's northwest, is about 20 percent Muslim. The secretary did not appear disturbed by the demonstrators.

"First of all, to a certain extent, the protesters make my point: that democracy is the only system that allows people to be heard, and to be heard peacefully," said Ms. Rice.

Inside the town hall, Secretary Rice told reporters that the United States has made mistakes in Iraq, but that it will be judged by its larger aims of peace and democracy in the Middle East.

"Of course, if you have ever made decisions, you have undoubtedly made mistakes in the decisions that you have made," she added. "But, the important thing is to get the big, strategic decisions right. And, I am confident that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and for democracy, is the right decision."

A planned visit to a Blackburn mosque was canceled after mosque leaders said they were concerned protesters would be too disruptive.

Secretary Rice is the guest of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is a native of Blackburn. He invited Rice to his hometown after he visited her home state of Alabama last year.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, efforts to form a government three months after elections stalled again Saturday. A senior Shi'ite politician openly called for Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to withdraw his candidacy for another term in the post. Others within the Shi'ite alliance said there is growing support to choose another candidate.

Kurdish and Sunni Arab politicians have urged the Shi'ite alliance to replace Mr. al-Jaafari, saying his government has been unable to curb sectarian tensions. There are also reports that the United States has pressed the Shi'ites to choose a different candidate.

The latest political developments took place against a backdrop of violence, as several Iraqis were reported killed in incidents Saturday in and around the capital.

Meanwhile, freed U.S. hostage Jill Carroll arrived in Germany, as she makes her way home to the United States. The 28-year-old freelance journalist was kidnapped January 7 in Baghdad, as her Iraqi translator was shot dead. Her driver escaped. She was freed Thursday in Baghdad.

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