Powell makes surprise Iraq trip

Secretary of state defends the war and its results on anniversary of invasion

March 20, 2004|By Letta Tayler | Letta Tayler,NEWSDAY

BAGHDAD - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell defended the war on Iraq during a surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday, as deaths of three U.S. troops and two Iraqi journalists, and protests, marked the anniversary of the invasion.

In a news conference held amid tight security at U.S. military headquarters, Powell hailed the war for having rid Iraqis of "a horrible dictatorial regime" and the world of the threat of chemical weapons that U.S. experts have yet to find. "We don't have to worry about that anymore on this March day, this one-year commemoration of the beginning of the war," he said.

About 30 Arab journalists walked out of the news conference to protest Thursday night's deadly shootings of two Iraqi correspondents for the Dubai-based satellite television channel Al Arabiya. The channel says U.S. troops firing indiscriminately hit the cameraman and reporter, one of whom died yesterday and the other Thursday, when a car ahead of the journalists ran a checkpoint.

"We declare our condemnation of the incident which led to the killing of the two journalists ... at the hands of the American forces," Najim al-Rubaie, a reporter with Iraq's Ad-Dustour newspaper, told Powell. The reporters demanded a full investigation and better safety for reporters.

The U.S. military has not confirmed that soldiers killed the journalists. Powell expressed regret at the deaths and said that if troops were responsible, he was sure it was accidental: "Mistakes happen. Tragedies occur."

The deaths were the latest in a bloody week in which at least 20 civilians, nearly half of them foreigners, have been killed in drive-by shootings or car- bombings of hotels used by Westerners.

Powell agreed that guerrillas are moving from "harder targets to softer targets" and said more "difficult days" of bloodshed might be in store.

Yesterday, guerrillas killed two U.S. Marines in western Anbar province. To the north, a U.S. soldier died when his Bradley fighting vehicle overturned and landed in the Tigris River near Beiji.

As Powell met with occupation officials, about 7,000 Iraqis of Islam's Sunni and Shiite sects marched in unity against the occupation after Friday prayers in Baghdad, chanting: "No to America, no to Saddam."

Powell flew from Kuwait on a U.S. military C-130 cargo plane and was taken from the airport to military headquarters in an attack helicopter. He spent his seven-hour visit in the Green Zone, the heavily guarded compound that is the nerve center of occupation forces.

Late yesterday, several explosions rocked the area in an apparent rebel mortar or rocket attack. There were no reports of injuries.

But by Iraq standards, yesterday was relatively quiet, despite fears of a major bombing to mark the anniversary of the invasion launched March 19, 2003.

The top administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, noted one way the coalition had improved the lives of Iraqis over the past year: the electricity supply was back to pre-war levels and climbing, unemployment was down and per capita income had risen by 33 percent this year.

"I arrived here in early May and Baghdad was on fire, literally," Bremer said at a briefing.

"There were no private cars, there was not a single policeman on duty anywhere in the country. There was no electricity in most of the country. There was no economic activity whatsoever, there was no stores open anywhere in Baghdad," he said.

"So when I look at how far we have come in 10 months now, it's an astonishing record."

He said the coalition had completed thousands of projects such as generator installations and school refurbishment, but admitted that attacks were interfering with big, capital-intensive projects because firms have to spend more on security.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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