U.S. will target insurgents using mosques for attacks

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Associated Press

BERLIN -- Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday defended American attacks on mosques and other holy places that are used by insurgents in Iraq, a tactic that has drawn complaints from U.N. officials.

"We have an obligation to protect our men," Powell said.

In Washington, President Bush said he believed most parts of Fallujah were returning to normal despite three days of battles. Democratic lawmakers took on the administration after getting an update on the situation in Iraq from the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

Bush said fighting and instability in Iraq will not force a delay in the June 30 transfer of power. "There are pockets of resistance and our military along with Iraqis will make sure it's secure," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office.

Lawmakers said they were leery after Rice gave them an upbeat assessment of operations in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill, was asked by reporters afterward about fighting in areas outside Fallujah. "What's going on are some terrorists and regime elements have been attacking our forces, and our forces have been going out and killing them," Rumsfeld said.

Asked if a major military confrontation can be avoided in Fallujah, Rumsfeld said, "Time will tell."

Powell, in the German capital for a 55-nation conference on anti-Semitism, rejected criticism by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about attacks by American helicopter gunships and tanks at a mosque on Monday in a Fallujah suburb.

Powell said when dangerous people desecrate holy places by using them as weapons storehouses or vantage points for attacking U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, the United States will fight back.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Wednesday that military action in Iraq is feeding the resistance. He urged U.S. authorities to do everything possible to seek a peaceful solution in Fallujah and Najaf.

"Violent military action by an occupying power against inhabitants of an occupied country will only make matters worse," Annan said. "It's definitely time, time now for those who prefer restraint and dialogue to make their voices heard."

Brahimi, who also has dueled with the administration over its support for Israel, had registered his disapproval of the U.S. retaliation, which toppled the mosque's minaret.

Powell said "we are being very careful" not to injure people or holy places in the struggle with insurgents. He appealed for understanding of the U.S. dilemma.

He also suggested Brahimi devote himself to planning an interim government in Baghdad, a job Powell said the former Algerian foreign minister was doing well.

In another exchange with reporters after meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Powell said there was no contradiction in U.S. retention of command over American, Iraqi and other security forces even after returning sovereignty to Iraqis.

Powell said this was done after World War II in Germany and later in South Korea.

"The United States will have to perform the role of commander" in Iraq after the transition, Powell said.

Powell also met with Poland's foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, and told reporters that "they are standing with us in Iraq." Poland has some 2,400 troops in Iraq.

On Tuesday, Marek Belka, who is expected to become Poland's next prime minister, said domestic pressure was building in Poland for the eventual withdrawal of Polish peacekeeping troops.

The U.S.-led coalition has lost the support of Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. A Polish defection would make a large dent in the US-led operation to restore order to Iraq.

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