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Powell asks Zapatero not to withdraw troops

19 March 2004

BAGHDAD – US Secretary of State Colin Powell asked new Spanish premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero Friday not to remove troops from Iraq.

On a surprise visit to the Iraqi capital, Powell said: “Now is not the moment.” 

Powell said the coalition’s planned transfer of sovereignty to Iraq’s US-appointed Governing Council is “on track”.

The move came after Zapatero promised to withdraw Spain’s 1,300 military contingent if the US does not hand over control of the country to a United Nations administration by 30 June.

Powell spoke to reporters and also met soldiers in Baghdad.

At a news conference, Powell conceded there had been “a spike in violence” but stressed that the coalition forces were working hard to reduce it.

He also said the US-led coalition was “still strong”, despite recent concerns voiced by Spain, Poland and South Korea.

Powell’s visit comes amid a fresh wave of violence in the country.

On Thursday, a car bomb killed at least five people in Basra. A day earlier, at least seven people were killed in a blast at a Baghdad hotel used mostly by foreigners.

Speaking to US soldiers and coalition staff at coalition headquarters earlier in the day,  Powell said militants trying to destabilise Iraq would be defeated.

“There are those who are determined to stop us… They are striking back in every way they can.”

A year after the start of the war in Iraq, the US military says the main threat in the country now comes from foreign extremists, rather than from former Saddam Hussein loyalists.

The US secretary of state praised the work of US soldiers and coalition staff.

“You and your buddies have removed a horrible dictatorial regime that was a threat to its own citizens, a threat to the region and a threat to the world.”

The White House has said the insurgents will not deter the coalition’s plans to rebuild Iraq.

Powell travelled to Baghdad from Kuwait City, where he held talks with officials on the first leg of a Middle East tour, which will also take him to Saudi Arabia.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news