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Powell Visits Halabja, Scene of 1988 Iraqi Poison Gas Attack

Secretary of State Colin Powell has attended the dedication of a memorial to thousands of victims of a poisonous gas attack by the Saddam Hussein government 15 years ago.

Mr. Powell flew by helicopter to the Kurdish town of Halabja, near Iraq's border with Iran, for a ceremony to honor the 5,000 people who died in a chemical gas attack in March, 1988. The memorial was dedicated at a cemetery where 1,000 of the victims are buried.

Mr. Powell said the world should have acted sooner against Saddam Hussein. He also said the Iraqi general blamed for the attack, Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, will stay in jail until an Iraqi court decides his fate.

The Saddam government bombed the town to put down a rebellion by Kurdish Iraqis. The Bush administration has often pointed to the attack as evidence of Saddam Hussein's willingness to use weapons of mass destruction. This was a major reason for the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

During Mr. Powell's visit to northern Iraq, he also met with Kurdish leaders and officials of the coalition provisional authority there. Five Kurdish leaders are on the interim Governing Council, and five Kurds are ministers in the cabinet that was announced two weeks ago.

Mr. Powell flew to Iraq from Geneva, where he met Saturday with foreign ministers of Britain, France, Russia, and China on a U.S. proposal for more countries to get involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. He said differences remain, but he received a fairly positive response.

Mr. Powell told reporters Sunday in Baghdad he believes the United Nations has a vital role to play and hopes the new U.S. proposal will give the world body a strong political mandate in Iraq.

France has proposed returning sovereignty to Iraqi leaders next month and holding elections early next year. Mr. Powell says this timetable is not realistic. He said the only way to guarantee that a stable and democratic Iraq emerges in the future is by building up government institutions and writing a new constitution.

Secretary Powell acknowledged there is still instability in Iraq, but he added that parts of the country, particularly in the north and the south, are secure, and Iraqi security forces are increasing in numbers and becoming more and more organized.

Meanwhile, one U.S. soldier was killed and three were wounded in Baghdad when a rocket-propelled grenade struck their convoy.