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US Secretary of State Makes Unannounced Visit to Iraq


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, making her first visit to Iraq as America's top diplomatic officer, has been meeting with U.S. military commanders, as well as top Iraqi leaders, to assess the situation.

The visit by Secretary of State Clinton to Iraq comes on the heels of a wave of bloody suicide-bombings which threaten to destabilize the country, just weeks before U.S. troops are set to withdraw from major Iraqi cities.

Clinton told a press conference with her Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, that her assessment of the situation in Iraq mirrored that of top U.S. commander General Ray Odierno. "These are tragic and terrible events, but they don't reflect any diversion from the security progress that has been made. They are certainly regrettable and horrible in terms of loss of life, but the reaction from the Iraqi people and the Iraqi leaders was firm and united in rejecting that violence and refusing to allow it to set Iraqi against Iraqi, which is obviously one of its intended goals," she said.

Two suicide-bombings, Thursday, followed by two more suicide-bombings, Friday, left scores of dead and wounded. The victims were mostly Shi'ite muslims, in what appears to be a bid to set off further sectarian warfare.

Clinton noted that despite the loss of life from the "lethal and terrible" suicide-bombings, the Iraqi people have made courageous sacrifices, alongside the United States, to withstand the challenges facing them. "The Iraqi people have withstood challenges of the most vicious and violent sort from those who would have torn their society apart, and Iraqis from everywhere have made tremendous sacrifices. The United States has also shared in those sacrifices, but we are proud of the progress that the Iraqi people have made….The Iraqi people are known for intelligence, hard-work and courage, and we will stand with you," she said.

Foreign Minister Zebari insisted that he doesn't think that the recent surge of violence will disrupt the timetable for U.S. troops to withdraw from major Iraqi cities in June, or for assuming security responsibilities across the country. "I personally don't believe that these deadly attacks will derail the government determination to pursue its plan to stabilize the country. Yes, we have indeed a certain timetable for (U.S.) withdrawal from the population centers, from the city-centers, but we are doing our utmost and we are coordinating very closely with the multinational forces to ensure there is no vacuum," he said.

Clinton also expressed her pleasure at having met ordinary Iraqis, including women and war widows. She told them the Obama Administration will stand by them in their travails. "I especially appreciated the chance to meet with Iraqis, including a group of Iraqi women, who were both war widows and helping widows and their children, and I also participated in a historic town meeting with Iraqi citizens representing a broad cross-section of Iraqi society. At each stop, I have emphasized president Obama's message that our strategy working with you may be in a new phase, but we pledge our full and continuing commitment to Iraq and the Iraqi people. We are committed to seeing an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant, and fully integrated in the region," she said.

Clinton was met at the Baghdad airport Saturday by the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill.
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