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Hundreds of Refugees Return to Iraq From Syria

Several hundred Iraqi refugees have returned to Iraq in a convoy of buses from neighboring Syria.

The refugee convoy is the first to be funded by Iraq's government as part of a plan to speed up the return of those who fled abroad. Twenty buses arrived in Baghdad early this Thursday morning after being escorted from the Syrian border by Iraqi forces.

Iraqi officials who greeted the returning refugees in Baghdad said each family will receive $750 to help them resettle.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Wednesday during a visit to Iraq that he has seen a marked improvement in the country's security. Negroponte was speaking after talks with Iraqi Kurdish leaders near the northern town of Arbil.

Negroponte also said Washington hopes Iraq will make political progress toward national reconciliation in parallel with its security achievements.

In other developments, the U.S. military said an American soldier was killed Wednesday by small arms fire in Baghdad. The military also said coalition forces detained 12 suspected terrorists during operations today in central and northern Iraq.

Also, the U.S. military said it plans to expand its roster of unofficial Iraqi security guards who act as neighborhood sentries by about 10 to 15 percent. The military already has trained and paid more than 50,000 Iraqis to operate checkpoints in their communities.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.