Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made an unannounced visit Friday to Iraq, where he pledged that the United States would try to undermine the continuing insurgency by speeding up reconstruction aid and jump-starting the economy.
"Reconstruction and security are two sides of the same coin. Those who are setting off these bombs, those who are conducting these kidnappings are doing it for the purpose of returning to the past, returning to the days of a Saddam Hussein-like regime," Powell said at a news conference after talks with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.
Iraq's hopes of building security forces capable of putting down the insurgency got a lift, meanwhile, when NATO countries agreed Friday to begin training Iraqi recruits. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said a 40-member advance team would leave for Iraq "as soon as possible" to begin the training, the Associated Press reported from Brussels.
De Hoop Scheffer said the mission's first task would be to set up a working headquarters to teach Iraqi officers how to run their own command-and-control system. The initial, 40-member mission is to be followed by a larger force. "It will certainly grow into the hundreds very rapidly in the early autumn," said Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO.
The United States, which has transferred less than $500 million of the more than $18 billion approved by Congress for Iraq last year, hopes to send at least $300 million a month beginning in September. Washington also hopes to overcome red tape and inefficiency and identify specific projects for up to half the total funds by year's end, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
The State Department has been pressing for months to accelerate the flow of aid to Iraq, but it had limited impact when the U.S. occupation authority was running the country and funds were largely administered by the Pentagon. Powell, on his first visit to Iraq since the transfer of political power at the end of June placed responsibility for implementing U.S. policy in the hands of the State Department, said he wanted to make aid a more urgent priority.
"We want to rebuild the infrastructure. We want to create jobs. . . . We want to show the Iraqi people that this money is being used for their benefit and do it as quickly as we can," Powell told reporters. "As people start to see their neighborhoods improve, their housing improve, the infrastructure improve, they will gain confidence about what we are doing. But more importantly, they will gain confidence that their government will be delivering."
The main purpose of Powell's visit was to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to help Iraq's interim government during the tough times Washington anticipates before elections for a national assembly are held in January. The Bush administration has been probing for ways to deal with the spate of violence, particularly the hostage-taking and suicide bombings that are challenging the month-old government and threatening to undermine Iraq's political transition.
"I don't think the Iraqi people want to go back to the past, and in order for them not to go back to the past, the United States and its coalition partners will stand firm with the new government," Powell pledged.
In a brief appearance after talks with President Ghazi Yawar, Powell said the United States would be watching with particular interest the outcome of a national conference to select a 100-member council empowered to overturn decisions by the government. The conference had been scheduled to open Saturday but was postponed until Aug. 15.
Powell called the delay an "appropriate" and "sound" move, and Yawar said it would not set back the complex 18-month schedule for electing a national legislature, writing a constitution and selecting a permanent government.
Yawar said security was worsening only because insurgents and extremists are increasingly desperate. "I think the bad guys, the enemy, the army of darkness is getting more helpless and hopeless. That is why they're stepping up these things," he said. "Time and the place [are] on our side."
Agreement among NATO members on the training mission had been delayed by French objections, according to the AP. France, which strongly opposed the war, had abandoned its objections to a NATO presence in the country but opposed putting the mission under the command of Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior U.S. officer in Iraq. The United States had insisted that the commander of the NATO mission be linked to the U.S.-led coalition.
The dispute was sidestepped when France suggested postponing a decision on the mission until September to let the first phase of the mission begin by Aug. 6. Officials said NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, U.S. Marine Gen. James L. Jones, would come up with a recommendation to NATO ambassadors by Sept. 15 on a command system for the mission.