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Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Powell visits Iraqi gas attack town
US Secretary of State Colin Powell during the talks in Baghdad
Mr Powell says the US will not a rush a handover of power
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has visited the site of one of Saddam Hussein's worst atrocities, at the end of a two-day visit to Iraq.

Mr Powell took part in the opening of a memorial and a museum in the northern town of Halabja, where in 1988 about 5,000 Iraqi Kurds were gassed in a single day by the former regime.

He told the gathering of several hundred that the man believed to have ordered the attack - Ali Hassan al-Majid or "Chemical Ali", who is currently in US custody - "will stay in jail until an Iraqi court decides his fate".

We can't just say 'You are a government, fine, go, you have full authority'
Colin Powell

"I can't tell you that Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant - you know that. What I can tell you is that what happened here in 1988 is never going to happen again," Mr Powell said.

In a reminder of the ongoing lawlessness in Iraq, gunmen killed the police chief in a town, west of the capital Baghdad, that has been the scene of repeated attacks against US forces.

Officials say Colonel Khdayyir Mukhlif, the head of police in Khaldiya, died when three men in a white pick-up truck opened fire on his car at point-blank range.

Two other police officers travelling with him were badly wounded.

Monday also saw a US soldier killed when his unit, which was on patrol in Baghdad, was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The soldier from the 1st Armoured Division was fatally wounded in the attack at 0110 (2110GMT on Sunday), the US military said.

'No rush to handover'

The US secretary of state, now on his way back to the US following a brief stopover in Kuwait, stressed America's desire to hand over control of the country to the Iraqis as soon as possible.

While he ruled this out as likely to happen in a matter of months, he said it was not inconceivable that this could be achieved by the end of next year.

However, he again rebuffed French calls for a quicker handover.

"We can't just say 'You are a government, fine, go, you have full authority'," Mr Powell told reporters in Baghdad.

He also said that securing a UN Security council resolution - now under discussion - was not essential to American plans for Iraq.

Symbolic

Mr Powell flew from Baghdad to the town of Kirkuk on a C-130 military transport aircraft and then by a helicopter to Halabja - a 30-minute trip across the dusty plains and barren hills of the Kurdish region.

HALABJA ATTACK 1988
victims of the Halabja gas attack
16 March: Kurdish town of Halabja hit by gas attack
Iraqi aircraft drop mustard and nerve gas bombs
At least 3,200 people killed
Part of wider "Anfal" campaign against Kurds
Survivors cancer-prone, birth defects common
UN condemns use of chemical weapons by Baghdad
Western governments continue support for Iraq Government

During the ceremony, he stood before long rows of simple headstones where the remains of 600 victims of the gas attack are buried.

Many in attendance were women, clad in black and carrying pictures of family members killed in the gas attack.

When Mr Powell mixed with the crowd after his brief remarks, many broke into tears as he approached and thrust bouquets of flowers at him.

The BBC's Gordon Corera, travelling with Mr Powell, said the symbolism of the secretary of state's visit to Halabja was deliberate.

He said Mr Powell hoped to draw attention to both the brutality of the past regime and its use of chemical weapons.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Ben Brown
"In Halabja, a hero's welcome for Mr Powell"



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