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Hillary Clinton, Other Congress Members Visit Baghdad

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U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and other members of a congressional delegation met in Baghdad Saturday with Iraq's prime minister and U.S. military commanders to discuss plans to stem violence in the country. VOA's Jim Randle reports from the Iraqi capital.

The U.S. delegation's visit to Baghdad comes amid a debate in Congress over President Bush's proposal to send an additional 20,000 U.S. troops to Iraq to help stem the violence. Most Democrats, who now control Congress, oppose the plan.

Senator Clinton told the U.S. television network ABC that the American people and Congress are skeptical that the mission in Iraq can work. And, she expressed doubt that Iraq's government would follow through with its promises to secure Baghdad.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Bush defended his plan, saying it marks a new strategy intended to help "secure the population, especially in Baghdad."

Earlier Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki expressed support for President Bush's new Iraq strategy. A statement issued by his office says U.S. forces will be working in support of Iraqi troops as they implement the prime minister's plan to restore peace to Baghdad.

President Bush's proposed plan also would increase the money and resources intended to help Iraq's economy.

In Baghdad, U.S. diplomat Dan Speckhard says some Iraqi and community leaders tell him Iraq's success hinges on doing more to bolster the battered economy and provide jobs.

He says militias, or other armed groups, will step in and fill the vacuum, if local governments fail to meet the needs of citizens. "You have less space for militias to try to move in, and say, 'well, hey, if the government can't do this, we will start providing services, meeting your needs,' and at the same time have that undesirable effect of actually causing additional friction, sectarian friction, and oftentimes sectarian violence," he said.

Speckhard recently spoke to reporters about plans to sharply increase the number of provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq.

Leaders of some of these teams say they are making progress making local governments more transparent and responsive to citizens, making the justice system more professional and more fair, and improving the climate for business.

But they face daunting security problems and have seen some team members killed, and some Iraqi partners kidnapped or murdered.

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