Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Powell visits Iraq after year

CLOSING RANKS The surprise visit came as US allies expressed concern about the continuing instability, especially South Korea, which refused a US call for help

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Baghdad yesterday to mark the first anniversary of the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein but that has so far failed to restore stability.

Powell's surprise visit took place after a spate of fresh attacks by anti-US insurgents.

The US military has had 391 troops killed in action since the US and Britain launched the war to rid Iraq of banned weapons they said Saddam possessed. None has been found.

In the latest violence, 10 people were killed in Iraq on Thursday and attacks damaged Baghdad hotels.

Among the dead were two Iraqi journalists with the Arab satellite television channel Al-Arabiya. The channel said the two were shot by US soldiers at a checkpoint in central Baghdad.

Powell, who made his first trip to Iraq in September, was due to meet Iraqi and US officials in Baghdad.

US officials have said they expect more guerrilla attacks to coincide with today's invasion anniversary and during the runup to a planned handover of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.

The insurgency, coupled with last week's devastating bombings in Madrid, has jangled the nerves of several US allies providing military support in Iraq.

South Korea said yesterday it had refused a US request for help in offensive operations and would not deploy troops in the northern city of Kirkuk because of deteriorating security there.

South Korea's parliament has approved government plans to send more than 3,000 troops -- half of them combat-ready forces -- to augment 600 medics and engineers who have been in Iraq since May. Their mission is restricted to reconstruction.

The unexpected decision seemed sure to delay the planned April deployment, pending agreement on a new location.

Seoul's move followed a pledge by Spain's new prime minister to pull troops out after an election upset that followed the train bombings which killed 202 people in Madrid. A videotape purportedly from al-Qaeda said the attack was in retaliation for Spain's support of the US-led war in Iraq.

Poland, another key US ally in Iraq, admitted on Thursday it felt misled into believing Saddam had weapons of mass destruction but vowed not to withdraw troops from the country.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski defended Poland's decision to break ranks with Germany and France and side with the US over Iraq because Iraqis deserved to be freed of Saddam.

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