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US State Department Official in Iraq Amid Series of Attacks


Robert Zoellick, left, presents a gift to Iraqi PM Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Baghdad
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick was in Baghdad Wednesday for meetings with Iraq's new leadership and to review reconstruction efforts in Baghdad and Fallujah. The visit comes amid a series of bomb attacks against Iraqi police and a U.S. convoy.

The trip by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is the second surprise visit by a top U.S. official this week. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with U.S. troops in the country Tuesday.

Mr. Zoellick praised the appointment of Iraq's new president, Jalal Talabani, and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari as a great achievement of the Iraqi people, and expressed support for Iraqi plans to write a new constitution.

He met the two leaders in Baghdad to discuss economic support for reconstruction efforts.

"Because in building a new Iraq and a new democracy, as well as in defeating the insurgency, it is important to have the political and economic elements complement those on the military side," he said.

Earlier he traveled to Fallujah, which Iraqi and American forces are struggling to rebuild after intense battles with insurgents last year.

Mr. Zoellick toured a water pumping station and a bakery that have reopened with U.S. financial assistance, and he vowed support in restoring other services to the battle-scarred town. He also asked local officials and residents for their help in bringing the city back to life.

Meanwhile in the northern city of Kirkuk, nine Iraqi policemen were killed when a device they were trying to defuse exploded. Three others were injured.

Authorities reported four separate attacks in Baghdad, including strikes on two U.S. convoys.

The al-Jazeera television network showed a videotape of armed militants holding a man who called on U.S. officials to negotiate with his captors for his release. The U.S. Embassy says the man appears to be an American contractor, who was kidnapped Monday, and White House officials say they are in contact with the man's family in Indiana.