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(AFX-Focus) 2003-03-25 19:54 GMT: Powell concedes problems in Iraq campaign but defends strategy

PARIS (AFX) - US Secretary of State Colin Powell conceded that the US-led invasion of Iraq had experienced difficulties but he said he was confident it would ultimately succeed.

"Obviously there have been problems. When you get going in a battle like this, there will be ambushes, there will be irregular forces attacking, there will be difficulties in particular places such as there is now in Basra," Powell said in an interview with France 3 television news.

"But what is also important to note is that the Iraqis are not putting up a cohesive, coherent defense across all of Iraq. It's spotty defense: a unit here, Fedayeen here, the regulars here, Republican Guard there.

"I'm quite confident that the strategy we have -- to take our time and to do it well -- is a strategy that will work, it will prevail and it will have its ups and downs," he said.

"We control almost all of the country except for the area around Baghdad. We have coalition forces in the west, we have coalition forces in the northern areas with the Kurds, we control the whole southern part of the country, so we are now slowly encircling Baghdad," he said.

Asked if France -- with whom the US has strained relations as a result of the diplomatic impasse that preceded the Iraq war -- would play a part in Iraq's reconstruction, Powell said that France was a permanent member of the UN security council so any initiative there would require its support.

"Hopefully France will play a helpful role," he said.


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