Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a Washington address late Wednesday, said the insurgency in Iraq is weakening and that Fallujah and other key towns in the so-called Sunni Triangle of central Iraq will soon be under government control.
Mr. Powell did not minimize the task that still lies ahead for the U.S.-led coalition and government forces in Iraq.
But in a notably-optimistic assessment of the Iraqi conflict, he said the coherence of the insurgency in the rebel stronghold town of Fallujah is weakening, and that Fallujah and other Sunni Triangle towns that have been essentially off-limits to government and coalition forces will be retaken before long.
"Soon this and other parts of Iraq that suffer the intimidation of political criminals and foreign fighters will once again be in the hands of the government," he said. "It's going to be tough, it's going to be difficult. There will be dark days ahead, but brighter days will be coming. We have to stand, we will stand, with the courageous and dedicated Iraqi leaders, with the people of Iraq, who want a better future."
Giving the keynote address at dinner marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies, Mr. Powell reeled off a list of reasons for his optimism.
He said they include the recent recapture of Najaf and Samarra and the mass turnover of weapons in Baghdad by followers of militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, along with talk of reconciliation by the Shiite cleric himself.
He also forecast success in next January's Iraqi elections along the lines of Saturday's presidential voting in Afghanistan, and said if democracy can be made to work in both countries, it will create what he termed an entirely new image in that part of the world.
Mr. Powell has largely steered clear of the U.S. election race. But in comments just before the third and final Presidential debate, he defended the President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq and at least implicitly raised the campaign theme that Democratic candidate John Kerry has been inconsistent on key issues.
"Monsters ruled and ravaged Iraq. They rule and ravage it no more. And after the January elections, I believe it will be clearer than ever that we've done the right thing," he said. "We're confident in our course because we've worked hard to understand the world that is taking shape before us. With this administration, with President Bush, there's no mystery about what we think. Like the President himself, we in this administration say what we mean and mean what we say, clearly and consistently."
Mr. Powell said President Bush's first choice in dealing with international problems is always diplomacy and political action.
But he said Mr. Bush also knows that for diplomacy to succeed, it must be backed up by economic, political and military strength and that he will not fail to act with force if necessary to protect U.S. friends and allies.