U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell reaffirmed U.S. support for Iraq's interim government in a surprise visit to Baghdad Friday. It was his first visit since the U.S.-led occupation officially ended with the June 28 transfer of sovereignty.
In a visit announced only after it began, Mr. Powell flew in from neighboring Kuwait, and helicoptered into the heavy-guarded "Green Zone" of central Baghdad for talks with President Ghazi al-Yawar and other officials.
His visit came in the wake of insurgent violence Wednesday across Iraq that killed some 70 people, most of them Iraqi civilians. In a joint press appearance with Mr. al-Yawar, the Secretary hailed the "determination and courage" of Iraq's month-old interim government is showing in the face of adversity and pledged unwavering U.S. support.
"I also reaffirmed our determination and commitment to keep working with the interim government as they go about the process of establishing democracy on the basis of freedom and human rights in Iraq," Mr. Powell said. "We are facing challenges in the weeks ahead but we are determined to overcome."
The Iraqi president, for his part, rejected a suggestion that the security situation is deteriorating, attributing this week's spate of attacks to desperation on the part of the insurgents and foreign terrorists.
"I think the bad guys in the army of darkness are getting more helpless and hopeless. That is why they are stepping up these things. Time and place is on our side, I'll tell you," he said.
The Iraqi president also said the last-minute postponement of the national political convention that was to have been held here this week does not signal any slippage in plans for national elections to begin next year.
He said Iraqi authorities were ready to stage the meeting of political, ethnic and religious leaders from around the country as planned on Saturday but agreed to push it back two weeks at the behest of United Nations officials.
The Secretary's talks here were a continuation of discussions he had in Saudi Arabia Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and focused on the country's troubled security situation, and a Saudi proposal for bringing peacekeeping troops from Muslim and Arab states to Iraq.
Mr. Powell has welcomed the Saudi initiative but says key questions remain, including how the Islamic troops would fit in to the chain-of-command with U.S-led forces, and whether they would supplement, or replace, units of the 31-nation coalition.
President al-Yawar said the interim government has not taken a formal position on the proposal, but said it is important that troops from Iraq's neighboring states not be part of peacekeeping operations.