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Spanish Leader Visits Iraq; U.S. to Send More Troops

Spanish Leader Visits Iraq; U.S. to Send More Troops

Posted - Dec. 20, 2003 at 6:16 p.m.



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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- 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. And residents in the western town of Rawah, near the Syrian border, said a large number of American soldiers had entered the town and were conducting house-to-house searches.

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.

The trip was so secret that soldiers in the mess didn't know Aznar was there until his visit was announced over a megaphone and the prime minister walked in. Bush staged a similar trip, secretly flying to spend a few hours with U.S. troops at Baghdad International Airport.

In brief comments to reporters, Aznar expressed support for Spanish troops and said he brought them greetings from King Juan Carlos. He said the soldiers were working for "the cause of freedom, democracy and respect for international law."

He depicted the soldiers' mission as being part of a broad, global campaign against terrorism. "The safety of Spain is also defended in Iraq," he said.

Aznar has staunchly supported the United States despite widespread opposition at home. Ten Spaniards have died in Iraq since August, and the worst attack -- an ambush in late November -- left seven Spanish intelligence agents dead.

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.

There were conflicting reports about a shooting in northeast Iraq. Local police said U.S. forces believed Iraqi policemen manning a checkpoint were bandits and mistakenly fired on them, killing three officers and wounding two.

The policemen were on a road in the Sleiman Beg area, 55 miles south of Kirkuk, when U.S. troops opened fire around midnight Friday, said Lt. Salam Zangana of the Kirkuk police force. He said two other policemen were wounded.

The U.S. military, however, said American troops on a night patrol killed three civilians who fired on them from a vehicle traveling with its lights out. Local police were caught in the crossfire and four were injured and evacuated to a U.S. medical facility, said Maj. Douglas Vincent of the U.S. Army's 173 Airborne Division.

Also, in Najaf, gunmen on a bicycle attacked Damiyah Abbas, a former provincial official of Saddam's Baath Party, and her 5-year-old son in front of her home on Saturday, witnesses said.

The boy was killed, and his mother was in critical condition in a hospital, police Lt. Raed Abbas said.

It was the third attack in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf -- apparently part of a series of revenge killings against local members of Saddam's Baathist regime, which brutally repressed Shiites. Damiyah Abbas was believed to have participated in the repression of a 1991 Shiite uprising against Saddam's government.

On Friday, gunmen killed former Baath official Ali Qassem al-Tamimi, the district mayor of Najaf's al-Furat neighborhood, as he shopped with a friend, according to another police official, Lt. Raed Jawad Abdel Saada.

And in Najaf on Wednesday, an angry crowd dragged former Saddam official Ali al-Zalimi from his car as he drove through town and beat him to death. He also was believed to have helped repress the 1991 uprising.

In a pre-dawn 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.

The raid on the man's home in Tikrit came after troops on a routine patrol in the suburb of Qadisiyah discovered bombmaking material in his grocery shop Friday, said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division.

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.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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