Powell says rebellion in Iraq intensifying

By Edward Alden and Thomas Catan in Washington and Mark Huband in London

Financial Times

Published: September 27 2004

Colin Powell, US secretary of state, said on Sunday that the revolt in Iraq was intensifying, in a departure from the Bush administration's recent assessments of security in the country.

"We are fighting an intense insurgency," Mr Powell said on ABC television's This Week programme. "Yes, it's getting worse and the reason it's getting worse is that they are determined to disrupt the election."

But Mr Powell joined top US military officials in insisting it would not undermine the planned elections, telling Fox News Sunday that it was "premature to judge that we cannot have full, free elections throughout the country".

President George W. Bush, who is campaigning for re-election, has insisted that "freedom is winning" in Iraq and at the weekend pointed to "steady progress" in rebuilding the country.

Last week Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, on a visit to the US, insisted that the security situation in Iraq was not as bad as it was being portrayed by the media.

But Mr Powell's comments echo those of the head of the private company co-ordinating security for contractors in Iraq, who said on Sunday that insurgents in the country will try to make it ungovernable in the run up to elections scheduled for January.

"There are spikes and troughs [in the violence], and we think there will be a 'lost' period between now and January," warned Tim Spicer, chairman of Aegis Defence Services. "There's a very serious insurgency problem going on. In the period running up to both the US and Iraqi elections, the enemy will try to make the place as dangerous and as ungovernable as possible."

Washington has in the past linked the growing violence in Iraq to its timetable for handing over power in Iraq. US officials said earlier this year that the growing violence was aimed at preventing the transfer of sovereignty, which occurred at the end of June. But instead of falling in the wake of the handover, attacks by insurgents have escalate d.

Mr Powell also confirmed on Sunday that he planned a conference for next month or early November on the future of Iraq, and that countries such as Syria, Iran and the Group of Eight industrial countries would be invited.

Mr Spicer was speaking in his first interview since the UK-based company won a $293m contract to co-ordinate the private security companies protecting civilian contractors involved in reconstruction projects. Aegis runs Iraq's National Civil Military Operations Centre, in conjunction with coalition forces.

The insecurity facing the companies rebuilding Iraq has been highlighted by the kidnapping and slaughter of two Americans in the past 10 days. The fate of Kenneth Bigley, a British hostage held by a militant group led by Abu Musub al-Zarqawi, remains precarious.

Concerns about the ability of a relatively small company such as Aegis to provide security services throughout Iraq led to a dispute with Dyncorp, a rival security company, over the US defence departme nt decision's to award it the contract.

DynCorp's complaint to the US government's general accountability office focused on Aegis's relative inexperience and Mr Spicer's personal involvement i n controversial military activities. The US government rejected DynCorp's complaint last September.