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US Officials: Iraq Making Security Gains, But Still Needs US Involvement

Two senior U.S. officials say Iraq has made strides in assuming control over its security, but will need continued support from the United States to achieve stability. They told U.S. lawmakers Thursday that the Obama administration is actively involved in helping the Iraqi government to prosper, even as it confronts a recent wave of violence targeting Iraqi Christians.

Bomb attacks targeting Iraqi Christians have left more than 60 people dead this month. On November 10, at least five people died and 33 were wounded in attacks in predominantly Christian neighborhoods.

Ten days earlier, 58 people died, including at least one priest, in a military assault on the Our Lady of Salvation Church in the Iraqi capital.

An al-Qaida-linked group, Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for that incident and has been threatening additional attacks against Christians in Iraq.

Despite those setbacks, and the need for further U.S. assistance, Iraq's government is exerting greater control of the country, says Jeffrey Feltman, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

"Iraqis have made significant strides, particularly in the security area. Iraq has substantial natural resources, rich cultural history, and a resilient, diverse population. But Iraq is not yet in a position to resolve its challenges, and make strategic progress on its own, without continued assistance from us. Left unresolved, the problems Iraq faces have the potential to seriously affect our country's national security, as a weak and unstable Iraq could provide sanctuary for international terrorists, become a tool of Iraq's aggressive neighbors and destabilize the Gulf," he said.

Feltman testified November 18 before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Colin Kahl also testified. "It is crucial to keep in mind that these attacks have repeatedly failed to accomplish al-Qaida in Iraq's number one strategic objective, and that is, to spark a return to widespread insurgency and communal civil war," Kahl said.

Kahl said building a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq must include continued U.S. support for the Iraqi security forces, including joint training exercises.

Committee members expressed concern about allegations of Iraqi abuses at Camp Ashraf, an Iranian refugee camp about 80 kilometers north of Baghdad. Iraqi forces clashed with the refugees in July 2009.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee asked about allegations that some Iranians suffering from cancer have been denied medical care. "Mr. Feltman, I can't let you leave this room without telling me, what are you going to do at our State Department about the conditions at Camp Ashraf?," she asked

Feltman said the State Department has raised the issue with the Iraqi human rights minister. "I think she's also been a very good advocate for the very values that you're describing. She's working in extremely difficult, " he said.

"...OK, I need a report in writing, cause my time is up, a report in writing. Not on this case, but on the conditions in Camp Ashraf and what the United States and she - director, Secretary of Human Rights, is actually doing regarding the ceasing of torture of these people in Camp Ashraf. She's doing nothing," the congresswoman said.

The U.S. handed over control of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis at the start of 2009.