U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is wrapping up a Middle East tour focused on the situation in Iraq with talks with officials in Kuwait. In Baghdad Friday, he pledged to speed up job-creating U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in Iraq.
A spate of kidnappings and bomb attacks in Iraq this week cast a shadow over Mr. Powell's swing through the Middle East.
In his surprise visit to Baghdad Friday, the secretary conceded that the insurgent violence is having a "deterring effect" with regard to the enlistment of new peacekeeping troops for Iraq and reconstruction.
But he said the Bush administration remains firmly committed to the task of helping the Iraqi interim government defeat the insurgency and get on with preparations for elections.
In a response to an appeal from the interim government in Baghdad, he promised to speed up the disbursement of $18 billion in U.S. aid money approved by Congress.
At a joint news conference with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, he said the U.S. funded infrastructure projects, which have been slowed by bureaucratic red tape and security concerns, will create jobs, and by extension help curb public discontent that is fueling the insurgency.
"I committed to the deputy prime minister, as well as to the president and the prime minister, that we'll be doing this in the very near future, to speed up the flow of money in order to get the job done because reconstruction and security are two sides of the same coin," Mr. Powell said. "When people see things happening in the society - their economy is starting to be built up again, their water problems are being dealt with, electricity is being restored, and other infrastructure problems are being taken care of - that contributes to a sense of safety and improves the security environment."
Mr. Powell took issue with one questioner's suggestion that Iran has become the main source of instability in Iraq, but he said the Iranians are seeking influence among Shiite Muslims in the southern part of Iraq and that the United States views this "with disfavor."
He also said the United States supports the concept of the Saudi proposal which surfaced this week to bring in peacekeeping troops to Iraq from Muslim countries, and Arab states not bordering Iraq. But he said it remains to be seen if conditions attached to the idea can be met, and if it actually produces contributions of new troops.
The secretary holds talks with Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheik Sabah al-Sabah to close out the Middle East portion of his current trip, which included stops in Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Iraq.
Later Saturday, he makes a brief visit to Sarajevo to meet members of the Bosnian presidency and the United Nations high representative for Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown. They'll discuss the planned transfer of peacekeeping duties there from NATO to the European Union at the end of the year.
Mr. Powell's week-long overseas mission ends Sunday in Warsaw, where he'll meet Polish officials and join in observances of the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising against the World War II Nazi occupation.