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Powell discusses security, reconstruction with Iraqi president

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The Bush administration is determined to help Iraq become a stable, democratic nation, even in the face of a hostage crisis, political infighting and a tenacious insurgency, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday.

The highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Iraq since the June 28 hand-over of sovereignty, Powell met with President Ghazi al-Yawer and Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh to talk about Iraq's political transformation, security and reconstruction.

The unannounced visit was part of a larger tour of the region, in which Powell has met with Arab leaders, trying to drum up support for the American-led coalition in Iraq.

"We have to make sure that these insurgents understand that we will not be deterred. ... These terrorists will be defeated," said Powell. "There can be no other option."

Powell has been promoting a Saudi-led plan to organize and deploy a group of soldiers from other Arab countries, excluding those bordering Iraq, to buttress the American military here.

"Whether all the issues can be met and whether that actually produces (troop) contributions remains to be seen," Powell said.

Some Iraqis, distrustful of the motives of their neighbors, are wary of the idea.

"These Arab forces are not coming for the sake of the Iraqis; they are coming for their own benefit because (interim Iraqi Prime Minister) Iyad Allawi has promised them political and economic benefit," said Kassim Zamel, a Baghdad pharmacist.

In a tacit acknowledgement of the frustration many Iraqis feel about the continued lack of electricity and other basic services—there still are areas in the capital in which, residents say, there are just six hours of power a day—Powell emphasized that there are plans to speed up reconstruction funding.

"We want to build the infrastructure," he said. "We want to create jobs. We want to show the Iraqi people that this money is being used for their benefit. Reconstruction and security are two sides of the same coin."

He declined to be more specific, but Saleh said U.S. officials had assured him that $9 billion in reconstruction money would be spent by year's end.

The secretary's visit came during yet another week of setbacks in Iraq.

On Wednesday, a car bomb in the town of Baqouba, to the north of Baghdad, killed at least 70 people and wounded more than 50.

The next day, a national conference billed as a major step in Iraq's democratic process was put on hold for two weeks. Iraqi officials said the move was at the request of the United Nations, which had grown concerned about the number of political groups that either weren't invited or were unwilling to participate.

The delay shouldn't affect Iraq's ability to hold parliamentary elections by Jan. 31, Powell said. "The conference slipped not so much because of security concerns but to make sure that preparations are in place, to make sure there was going to be proper representation of all segments of Iraqi society."

Late Thursday, a firefight broke out in the city of Fallujah, and Marines there were attacked with AK-47 fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Air support, tanks and artillery were called in. While no Marines were killed, 13 Iraqis reportedly died in the fighting.

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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