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Powell makes surprise visit to Baghdad

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made an unannounced trip to Baghdad early Friday for talks with top Iraqi officials, including the country's new president, Ghazi al-Yawer.
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made an unannounced trip to Baghdad early Friday for talks with top Iraqi officials, including the country's new president, Ghazi al-Yawer.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan said Powell was met at Baghdad International Airport by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John D. Negroponte. Powell is the highest ranking American official to visit since Iraq's interim government took power on June 28.

Callahan told The Associated Press that Powell is expected to hold talks Friday with al-Yawer and Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh.

Powell arrived in Iraq following meetings with Kuwaiti and Saudi leaders in their respective countries Thursday.

Powell flew to Baghdad from Kuwait aboard a military aircraft and then by helicopter to the heavily guarded "Green Zone" where the U.S. Embassy is located.

The visit is Powell's third to Baghdad since the ouster of President Saddam Hussein.

Powell is on a weeklong tour of central Europe and the Middle East.

Talks of Muslim force
In the Saudi port city of Jiddah, Powell met with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who Muslim nations to dispatch troops to Iraq to help defeat an insurgency that he said threatens all Islamic countries.

Allawi made the appeal a day after Saudi officials disclosed that they had initiated an effort to encourage the creation of a Muslim security force to help bring stability to Iraq.

Powell, who met with Allawi in this breezy port city, said he did not know whether the proposed force would complement the coalition or would be a one-for-one substitution. The number of Muslim troops in the coalition is believed to be scant.

It was apparent that many questions about the force remain unanswered, including its size and the type of tasks the force would be asked to fulfill. Nor is it clear whether Muslim countries would go along with the idea. Another issue is how such a force would relate to the existing U.S.-led coalition.

Meanwhile, a top Pakistani leader has met with Saudi officials to discuss a possible Muslim military force for Iraq, and Yemen and Bahrain have offered help under certain conditions.

But while Arab governments and other Muslim countries say they want to help restore calm in Iraq -- and have an interest in ensuring violence there does not destabilize the region -- they must move carefully to avoid angering their citizens, many of whom are hostile toward the United States and Iraq's U.S.-backed government.

Arafat-Qureia accord sought Earlier Wednesday, Powell met in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as part of aMideast tour that includes efforts to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and talks with some of America's closest Arab allies about Iraq's future, the war on terror, violence in Sudan and the U.S. initiative to encourage greater democracy in the region.

Egyptian presidential spokesman Maged Abdel Fattah issued a statement to reporters after Powell and Mubarak met, saying the two had agreed that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia should work together.

Abdel Fattah said Mubarak had telephoned Arafat Tuesday to urge him to implement his agreement with Qureia "with all seriousness and to continue contacts with the leaders of the Palestinian factions to contain this crisis and start empowering the prime minister and enable him to exercise his power according to the agreement."

Qureia on Tuesday withdrew a resignation he had offered 10 days ago in frustration at Arafat's refusal to let him restructure the security forces and deal with growing unrest in the Palestinian areas.

Arafat's almost absolute control over the Palestinian Authority has been a source of frustration for the United States and other countries demanding reform among the Palestinian leadership. Under an agreement struck Tuesday, Qureia's security powers would be limited to the internal security forces, while Arafat will retain control over the Palestinian intelligence service and armed forces, Palestinian officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.