US Secretary of State Colin Powell confronted the cost of the US-led occupation head-on when he flew into Iraq yesterday just an hour after a bomb attack killed another US soldier.
The second top US official to visit Baghdad in a little over a week, Powell arrived at Baghdad airport fresh from talks in Geneva to try to coax other leading governments into helping to stabilize and rebuild the country.
With US forces coming under fire more than a dozen times a day and the financial cost of occupation mounting, Washington is seeking a new UN Security Council resolution that would increase international involvement.
Powell did not win round all the other foreign ministers of the world's five major powers in Geneva but they agreed to talk again at the UN this week.
In Baghdad, Powell said that the security situation in Iraq remained challenging but was confident US forces would manage to pacify the country and establish democracy.
Powell was speaking after a meeting with Iraq's new Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, who said he hoped the occupied country could have a sovereign, elected government in place by the middle or end of next year.
"The security situation remains challenging but, after the briefings I had this morning, I am confident that our commanders understand the environment that we are operating in and will be able to deal with it in due course," he said.
US forces come under fire more than a dozen times a day in Iraq.
A US soldier in the restive town of Falluja yesterday became the 72nd soldier to be killed in action in Iraq since the official end of major combat on May 1. He was killed when his vehicle ran over a roadside bomb. Three other soldiers were hurt in the blast.
Falluja, a hotbed of opposition to the US-led occupation, saw anti-American protests on Saturday after US soldiers shot dead 10 members of a local security force, apparently mistaking them for resistance fighters.
"The major new threats are the terrorists who are trying to infiltrate into the country for the purpose of disrupting this very hopeful process [of bringing democracy to Iraq] and we will not allow that to happen," Powell told reporters.
US commanders say foreign Islamic fighters have been entering Iraq in increasing numbers, often from Iran and Syria.
Intelligence estimates of the number of infiltrators range from several hundred to 1,000 or 2,000, Powell said.
Zebari said security would have a major bearing on when Iraqis could take full control of the country.