- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

BAGHDAD — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday on the first anniversary of the war that ousted Saddam Hussein from power, but he was greeted with hostility by Arab journalists, who walked out of his news conference to protest the killing of two of their colleagues by U.S. troops.

Hundreds of American soldiers and civilian workers, however, cheered him in the large dining hall of the Coalition Provisional Authority’s (CPA) headquarters, located in Saddam’s former Republican Palace.

“Yes, there will be difficult days ahead,” Mr. Powell told them. “I don’t want to underestimate the seriousness of the challenge, and we have to shift as the enemy shifts. They have moved from harder targets to softer targets. We’ll have to adapt our tactics likewise.”

The secretary rejected claims that renewed attacks on the U.S. occupation have weakened the reconstruction effort and insisted that the coalition is “still strong.”

“This is not the time to say, ‘Let’s stop what we’re doing and pull back.’ It’s time to redouble our efforts, and not run and hide and think it won’t come and get us. It will,” he said. “I don’t think the war in Iraq is the source of instability around the world.”

Responding to Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski’s remarks Thursday that he had been “misled” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Powell said Washington provided him with “full, candid and open information” with respect to the threat it saw from Saddam.

“Poland has been a good ally and a solid partner in the coalition and I am pleased that even though the president did make that statement, he said the Polish troops would be remaining,” Mr. Powell said.

In a telephone conversation with President Bush yesterday, Mr. Kwasniewski said his remark had been misunderstood and said Polish troops would stay in Iraq “as long as needed.”

As Mr. Powell walked in the Baghdad Convention Center hall where his news conference with L. Paul Bremer, Iraq’s civilian administrator, was held, a local reporter began reading a protest note regarding Thursday’s shooting of two Iraqis who worked for the Dubai-based television channel Al Arabiya. When he finished, about 30 Arab journalists, who were sitting in the very front, ceremoniously left the hall.

Mr. Powell said he regretted the loss of life, but added he was certain the Americans did not kill the journalists on purpose.

Al Arabiya employees say U.S. soldiers fired on a car carrying the TV crew, after another car ran through a checkpoint. Cameraman Ali Abdelaziz was killed immediately and correspondent Ali al-Khatib died in the hospital yesterday morning.

In another protest against the occupation, about 7,000 Sunnis and Shi’ites marched after prayers yesterday in two main mosques, chanting, “No to America, no to Saddam.”

Mr. Powell, who met with seven of the 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council, said the shape of the government scheduled to assume office on July 1 has not been “resolved yet.” But, he said, “we have a number of ideas that are under consideration and we have time between now and then to put that government in place.”

Hours after Mr. Powell left Baghdad, several explosions rocked the area housing the coalition headquarters in an apparent rebel mortar or rocket attack. There were no reports of injuries.

Also yesterday, the military said two members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were killed Wednesday in Anbar province in western Iraq.

Mr. Powell flew to Baghdad from Kuwait on a U.S. military C-130 aircraft. From the airport, he and his delegation were transported in low-flying helicopters to the Green Zone, the heavily guarded and safest area in the capital surrounding the CPA headquarters.

Mr. Powell arrived in Kuwait late Thursday, after a three-day visit to South Asia, which included stops in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

His seven-hour stay in Baghdad was followed by a three-hour visit to Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, last night, after which he returned to Kuwait for meetings with senior officials today.

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