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Colin Powell Pays Surprise Visit to Baghdad - 2004-03-19


Secretary of State Colin Powell paid a surprise visit to Baghdad Friday on the first anniversary of the start of the war that ousted Saddam Hussein. He held talks with officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council, and addressed U.S. troops.

Mr. Powell flew here from Kuwait, on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane, for an eight-hour visit that was long planned, but, for security reasons, was announced only after his arrival in Baghdad.

He went to the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority in the so-called Green Zone of the Iraqi capital for meetings with, among others, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremmer, and members of the Iraqi Governing Council.

He also delivered a pep talk to about 400 American and other coalition troops in a colossal former Saddam Hussein palace. He paid tribute to U.S. forces for removing what he termed "a horrible dictatorial régime" and putting Iraq on the road to democratic rule under the administrative law recently approved by the Governing Council.

Mr. Powell said foreign terrorists and die-hard supporters of the former régime are determined to halt the process with attacks on coalition forces and Iraqi civilians. But he said the American people are solidly behind the effort in Iraq, and terrorism will not be allowed to win.

"And, I am proud that our president, George W. Bush, did not turn away," he said. "And after 9-11, he realized that this was a threat for the whole world. And, he said, 'here we stand. We will fight it.' Americans don't walk away from this kind of challenge, and we are blessed that we have so many friends and allies that are standing alongside of us. And with that kind of leadership, with that kind of determination, we will prevail over terrorism. "

Mr. Powell's talks here covered security issues, plans for an Iraqi interim government after the formal end of the U.S.-led occupation June 30, and the United Nations' role after the hand over of sovereignty.

Coalition officials who briefed reporters traveling with Mr. Powell said there was no option in the lead now for the structure of the interim government, despite press reports that it will likely be accomplished by expanding the 25-member Governing Council.

They also said the almost certain prospect of Spain's 1,300-member force leaving the coalition in June is a regrettable, but manageable problem, given that tens of thousands of Iraqi police and troops are beginning to back up the mostly American coalition force of about 150,000 soldiers.

They acknowledge shortcomings in the training and capability of some of the Iraqi forces, but also said Iraqi civilians have begun volunteering information to those troops that has led to the break-up of terrorist cells.

It was Mr. Powell's second Iraq visit since the end of the war. He made a similar stop in Baghdad last September. Mr. Powell will wind up his current overseas mission with talks with officials in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and political reform in the Arab world.

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