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Iraq PM Touts Success in Address to Shi'ite Pilgrims


Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared success in efforts to achieve stability and eliminate sectarian violence in the country. In an address to millions of Shi'ite pilgrims, he urged Iraqis to work together to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq. Daniel Schearf reports from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

Mr. Maliki's speech Thursday was broadcast live and to more than six million Shiite pilgrims in the city of Karbala, south of Baghdad.

In his address he praised Iraqi Shi'ites for looking past sectarian divisions and working for peace.

Mr. Maliki said terrorists want to burn the land and destroy everything good in the country. But, he said Iraq's people have banded together to keep civil war at bay.

The throngs of Shi'ite pilgrims had gathered in Karbala to commemorate the death of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Hussein, 13 centuries ago.

The annual pilgrimage was marred earlier this week by attacks on traveling Shiites. At least 64 were killed and around a hundred wounded in bombings and gunfire blamed on Sunni-led al-Qaida in Iraq.

Mr. Maliki, a Shi'ite, vowed to defeat the insurgents.

He said security has returned to some areas, but he added that al-Qaida must be defeated in Mosul, Diyala and Kirkuk, all north of Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi security say those northern cities have become strongholds for al-Qaida-linked insurgents.

Security in Iraq has improved in the last year with a surge of U.S. troops and cooperation with Shi'ite and Sunni militias.

But there has been a wave of bombings, terror attacks, and kidnappings this month.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber in Mosul killed at least nine people. Earlier this month twin suicide bombings at Baghdad pet markets killed nearly a hundred people.

The U.S. Defense Department said this week that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq will remain greater than it was before last year's surge in forces, at 140,000 troops.

Political divisions, along religious and ethnic lines, are also slowing Iraq's progress.

Baghdad has yet to pass an oil revenue sharing law, and on Wednesday Iraq's presidential council rejected a law for establishing provincial elections. The bill would have required national elections in October and was seen by Washington as a key benchmark for national reconciliation efforts.