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US Congressional Delegation Visits Iraq Amid New Violence


New attacks, including one on a hospital, have killed at least 15 people across Iraq. Meanwhile, a U.S. Congressional delegation made a quick trip to Iraq, visiting troops and meeting with government officials in Baghdad and in the northern Kurdistan region.

In a daring daylight raid, gunmen attacked the detention wing of a hospital in the city of Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, freeing several wounded prisoners. Police say four guards were killed in the raid.

Elsewhere, at least 11 other people were killed in separate incidents, including two barbers who were gunned down in the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk. In Baghdad, a bomb exploded in the Karradah district, killing at least three people and wounding 20 others.

In the southern province of Basra, the British military reported the death of one of its soldiers, bringing to 114 the number of British troops killed in Iraq since 2003.

But there were some positive developments Sunday. Kidnappers released six hostages from a group of about 30 seized from a club Saturday in Baghdad. The hostages include members of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and top sporting officials. There is still no word on the fate of the remaining hostages.

Meanwhile, five U.S. Congressmen wrapped up a two-day visit to Iraq. The legislators visited Baghdad Saturday, where they met with senior Iraqi officials and visited with U.S. troops. Their tour continued Sunday in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, where they met regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and other top officials.

Republican Pete Hoekstra, from Michigan, told VOA that U.S. troops will keep coming home in small numbers over the coming months, but that they will remain in Iraq, until the job is done. He said the message the delegation heard on their trip was very consistent:

"You are making significant progress here, but you cannot leave now," said Pete Hoekstra. "You need to provide the environment for the Iraqi people to be successful and determine their future."

Hoekstra says he believes the new Iraqi government is working hard to improve the security situation in the country.

"I think there is a commitment by the Iraqi government to get this violence under control," he said. "They know that they need to do that. They have to improve the security situation, if they are going to be successful on the economic and political fronts."

The congressional delegation is only the second one to visit the Kurdistan region. Republican Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut says, some parts of Iraq have made more progress than others.

"Being in the Kurdish area of Iraq, we see a lot more progress, because, frankly, they have had 12 years, even under Saddam, where they were separate from his control, and able to progress and move forward," said Christopher Shays. "But the Kurds are an integral part, an integral part, of getting the job done here."

The Congressional delegation departed for Washington, where Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is scheduled to meet with President Bush on July 25.

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