BAGHDAD, Iraq – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said Friday the United States will speed delivery to Iraq (search) of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid that the Congress approved last year.
Powell disclosed the plan during a news conference in which he vowed that terrorist violence in Iraq will be defeated — only to be challenged by an Iraqi journalist who defended the right of Iraqis to "kick out" occupiers.
Powell made an unannounced nine-hour visit here, the highest ranking U.S. official to come to Iraq since American administrators turned political power over to an Iraqi interim government on June 28.
Meanwhile, Marines battled Iraqi insurgents for hours in Fallujah (search), killing 13 Iraqis and wounding 14 others in a series of gunfights, mortar barrages and airstrikes, local officials said.
Many of those wounded, including at least one child, appeared to be civilians injured by U.S. airstrikes, hospital officials said. The U.S. military said insurgents started the fighting Thursday night by ambushing a patrol and then fled into buildings to continue the battle. The Marines said they suffered no casualties.
The interim government also received a boost Friday as NATO countries agreed to begin training Iraqi security forces. Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said a 40-member advance team would leave for Iraq as soon as possible.
Powell met with President Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer and Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh. He had met with Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Thursday in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.
Powell offered no figures of projected reconstruction aid deliveries. But Saleh said $9 billion would be obligated by December.
Powell said the he believes a faster-paced reconstruction effort will enhance public support for the interim government.
"We want to rebuild the infrastructure. We want to create jobs," he said. "We want to show the Iraqi people that this money is being used for their benefit and do it as quickly as we can."
U.S. lawmakers and others have said the administration has moved too slowly in converting $18 billion in reconstruction aid into projects on the ground in Iraq. To date only $458 million has been spent, officials said, blaming red tape.
"Reconstruction and security are two sides of the same coin," Powell said. Improving the economy and restoring vital services such as water and electricity "contribute to a sense of safety and a secure environment," he said.
Powell heaped praise on the Iraqi leadership for their attempts to put the country on a democratic path despite great danger from armed opponents.
"It's important to note the leaders of Iraq are very courageous, they put themselves at risk every day," Powell said. "We have to make sure that these insurgents understand that we will not be deterred ... . The terrorists will be defeated, there can be no other option."
It is a message that Powell has repeated at each stop since he departed Washington Monday morning: Hungary, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. He will visit Bosnia and Poland before returning home on Monday.
Al-Yawer put the most optimistic face on the security problem, telling reporters after his meeting with Powell that that rebel forces have been increasing violent attacks recently because they realize they have no chance of winning.
"The bad guys, the army of the darkness, are getting more helpless and hopeless. That's why they are stepping up these things. Time and the place is on our side," al-Yawer said.
Powell's visit came as fighting between U.S. Marines backed by fighter aircraft and insurgents using small arms and mortars killed 13 Iraqis in Fallujah.
Powell flew here aboard a C-130 military aircraft from Kuwait, the pilot limiting the exposure to possible snipers by taking a steep dive shortly before landing at Baghdad International Airport. Powell then flew by helicopter to the heavily guarded "green zone" in Baghdad, which houses the U.S. embassy.
At the news conference, a journalist appeared to defend the insurgency, telling Powell that "the Islamic religion imposes on the people to fight to kick out the occupiers."
He denied that the people of Fallujah, Ramadi and other hot spots were terrorists, saying they were simply responding to U.S. "air raids" and "random killings."
Powell said the only U.S. goal is to "to give every opportunity to the Iraqi people to live in peace, freedom and democracy."
Those who commit violent acts, he said, are doing them "for the purpose of returning to the past, returning to the days of a Saddam Hussein-like regime."