BAGHDAD - Iraqi journalists walked out of a Baghdad news conference by Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday in protest at the lack of security and the killing of two Iraqi journalists by U.S. troops.
Powell urged U.S. allies to stay the course in Iraq after Spain vowed to pull out troops and South Korea refused to take on a combat role.
Arab journalists walk out of the hall during the press conference of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday March 19, 2004. Arab journalists walked out of a news conference held by Powell in a protest against the shooting deaths of two Iraqi reporters, allegedly by U.S. troops. A reporter for Arab satellite television station Al-Arabiya died from his wounds Friday after U.S. soldiers shot him hours earlier along with a cameraman, who died at the scene, the station said. The death brought to five the number of journalists killed in Iraq in less than 24 hours. (AP Photo/Murad Sezer)
"This is not the time to say 'let's stop what we are doing and pull back'," he told the news conference.
"This is the time to...deal with this threat to the civilized world and not run and hide and think that it won't come and get us -- it will."
About 30 Iraqi journalists quit the hall in anger at Thursday's shooting of two colleagues who worked for the Dubai-based satellite television channel Al Arabiya.
"We declare our condemnation of the incident which led to the killing of the two journalists...at the hands of the American forces," declared Najim al-Rubaie of Iraq's Distor daily as Powell and Iraq's U.S. governor Paul Bremer looked on.
Al Arabiya employees say U.S. soldiers fired on a car carrying an Arabiya crew on Thursday evening after another car ran through a checkpoint. Cameraman Ali Abdelaziz was killed and correspondent Ali al-Khatib died in hospital on Friday morning.
After the walkout, Powell said he respected the right of the journalists to express their feelings, adding they could not have done so under Iraq's former Baathist government.
He said he regretted the deaths of the journalists, but was sure troops would not have killed them on purpose.
Powell, on a surprise visit to Baghdad, hailed the war in Iraq after a year of bloodshed, saying it had rid the country of a "horrible dictatorial regime."
Earlier he told hundreds of U.S. soldiers and civilians, now frequent targets for attack, that Iraq and its neighbors need no longer fear Saddam Hussein's chemical arsenal -- even though U.S. experts have found no such weapons in a year-long hunt.
"We don't have to worry about that any more on this March day, this one year commemoration of the beginning of the war," declared Powell, who flew in from Kuwait and later left.
Across town, about 7,000 Sunnis and Shi'ites marched against the occupation after Friday prayers in two main mosques. "No to America, no to Saddam," they chanted in a show of unity.
The U.S. military has lost 392 troops in action since the United States and Britain launched the war to rid Iraq of the so far elusive banned weapons they said Saddam possessed.
Powell said "difficult days" lay ahead for Iraq, where at least 10 people were killed in the latest violence on Thursday.
'NO TO AMERICA, NO TO SADDAM'
Thousands of Shiite Muslim men protest outside the Palestine hotel in Baghdad Friday March 19, 2004. (Photo/Murad Sezer)
"We have to shift as the enemy shifts. They have moved from harder targets to softer targets. We'll have to adapt our tactics likewise," he said, adding that Iraqi forces would take on an increasing role in fighting the insurgency.
A London-based Arabic newspaper said al Qaeda had claimed responsibility for a Baghdad hotel attack on Wednesday that killed at least seven civilians.
The postwar violence, coupled with last week's devastating bombings in Madrid, has jangled the nerves of several U.S. allies providing military support in Iraq.
Powell, seeking to stiffen their spines, said the engagement in Iraq was part of the struggle against global terrorism.
South Korea said on Friday it had refused a U.S. request for help in offensive operations and would not deploy troops in the northern city of Kirkuk because of deteriorating security there.
The unexpected decision seemed sure to delay the planned April deployment of more than 3,000 South Korean troops to augment 600 already in Iraq helping with reconstruction.
Spain's new leader pledged last week to pull troops out of Iraq after an election upset that followed the train bombings which killed 202 people in Madrid. A videotape purportedly from al Qaeda said the attack was to punish Spain for its Iraq role.
A senior coalition military official praised the work Spanish troops had done but said their withdrawal would be militarily "manageable."
He voiced confidence that other nations in the coalition would stay. "We're not going to see some sort of domino effect with the Spaniards."
Poland, another key U.S. ally in Iraq, vowed not to withdraw troops from the country.
Powell acknowledged there was no agreement yet on the shape of a sovereign government due to assume power on July 1, saying he hoped a U.N. envoy would arrive soon to join talks about various options with the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday he would send a U.N. political team to Iraq soon to advise on a transitional government and elections early next year. (Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Luke Baker)
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