Spanish leader makes surprise visit to Iraq; U.S. to send more

Sunday, December 21, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Reaffirming his support for the U.S.-led occupation, Spain's prime minister lunched in a desert canteen with Spanish soldiers in Iraq on Saturday in a surprise trip reminiscent of President Bush's Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad.

Also Saturday, in an apparent revenge campaign, attackers separately killed two people with close ties to the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

In Samarra, a town near Tikrit where rebel activity has been intense, U.S. forces destroyed a house suspected of being used by insurgents to shoot at passing military convoys.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar landed in Iraq at about 11 a.m. with a 16-member delegation to meet members of the 1,300-strong Spanish contingent in Iraq, based in the southern town of Diwaniyah. He left four hours later.

Meanwhile, senior military officials in Washington said the Pentagon is sending an additional 2,000 troops to Iraq and extending the deployment of another unit.

Japan also said it was dispatching 1,000 troops on a humanitarian mission to southern Iraq -- the country's first deployment to a conflict zone since World War II.

In a predawn raid Saturday, U.S. troops arrested a shopkeeper believed to be connected with a Tuesday bomb explosion that injured three American soldiers, a U.S. commander said.

Nevertheless, U.S. military officials said this week there were fewer attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces over the past month while attacks on Iraqi civilians and security forces were increasing. Rebels have targeted Iraqis working with the U.S.-led occupation authorities.

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