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Security Situation in Iraq Will Gradually Improve, says US Official - 2003-11-08

A senior U.S. administration official arrived in Baghdad Saturday saying he believes the security situation in the country will gradually begin to improve.

Following the deadliest week for American forces in Iraq since major combat operations ended May 1, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrived in Baghdad Saturday for a 24-hour visit.

Mr. Armitage said he was visiting Iraq to maintain what he described as momentum on security, economic and political issues in the country.

The deputy secretary said he expects the security situation in Iraq to begin to improve.

"It's not a secret to anyone that in the Baghdad, Tikrit, al-Ramadi, Fallujah area we've got the security problem," he said. "And, we're sobered by the problem, but after discussions today with the commander of Joint Task Force 7, Lieutenant General Sanchez, I am absolutely convinced that we have a very solid plan to go out and get these people who are killing us and killing Iraqis."

Dozens of American soldiers have died over the past week, including two soldiers Saturday with the 82nd Airborne Division who were killed when a bomb detonated as their convoy was driving by.

On Friday, six American soldiers died when their Blackhawk helicopter crashed near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Last Sunday, 16 American soldiers were killed when their Chinook helicopter was apparently shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

The International Red Cross said Saturday it was temporarily closing its offices in Baghdad and the southern Iraqi city of Basra because the situation in the country has become what it described as very dangerous and volatile.

On Friday, Turkey announced it would not be sending troops to join coalition forces in Iraq.

Mr. Armitage said there are continuing discussions with other countries to send troops to Iraq but that current troop strength in the country was adequate to maintain security.

The deputy Secretary of State said he plans to hold talks with Saudi and Egyptian officials over the next few days regarding human rights issues, the current situation in Iraq and the Middle East in general. He said he does not think the Middle East should be immune to democracy.