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Clinton renews support for Iraq

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Hillary Clinton: 'We remain committed to Iraq'

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the US "will stand with the people of Iraq" during a difficult transition period in the conflict-torn country.

She was speaking during her first visit to Iraq as America's top diplomat.

President Barack Obama has committed the US to withdrawing troops from Iraqi cities by the end of June. All combat brigades are to leave by next summer.

Mrs Clinton's visit comes in the wake of two days of suicide bomb attacks in Iraq which killed at least 155 people.

Violence fell sharply in Iraq in the last year.

But because of the recent attacks, there will be a lot of head-scratching about whether the timetables should be stuck to or whether they should be flexible, the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says.

The attacks do not yet seem to be a sustained trend, but they seem to be starting to take on a rhythm which is truly alarming for the Iraqi government and for the Americans, our correspondent says.

'Clear signal'

"We want to see a stable, sovereign, self-reliant Iraq," Mrs Clinton said during a "town-hall" meeting with Iraqis from different civil society and interest groups.

Kim Ghattas
The BBC's Kim Ghattas, travelling with Mrs Clinton


The rare gathering was a stark reminder of the difficulties that lie ahead for Iraqi's as they try to take control of their country.

Most of the questions directed at Mrs Clinton were close to a plea for American help in everything, from education to agriculture and the economy.

One man questioned his government's ability to provide security after US troops left.

"The US will stand with the people of Iraq and will look for ways to create a close and important relationship for the future."

Following meetings with Iraqi officials including Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, Mrs Clinton held a press conference with with her Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari.

The secretary of state condemned the upsurge in bomb attacks against Iraqis over recent days.

She also described as "disappointing" a statement from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accusing US troops of involvement in the bombings that had killed Shia pilgrims from Iran.

"It is disappointing for anyone to make such a claim since it is clearly traced to the al-Qaeda remnants and other violent groups who wish to disrupt the progress of Iran, of Iraq," she said.

Before leaving for Baghdad she said would also discuss the recent attacks with US commander in Iraq, Gen Raymond Odierno.

WEEK OF SUICIDE BOMBINGS
Friday: Baghdad shrine attack kills 60
Thursday: Baquba restaurant attack kills 56, Baghdad street bomber kills 28
Wednesday: Bomber kills five in Dhuluiya
Monday: Bomber kills three policemen in Baquba

"I want his evaluation of what these kinds of rejectionist efforts mean and what can be done to prevent them by both the Iraqi government and the US forces," she said.

Mrs Clinton said the recent upsurge in violence was a tragic signal that Iraq was in fact on the right path.

She said the Iraqi government had made impressive progress but there were people who did not want it to succeed.

On Friday, two female suicide bombers attacked Baghdad's main Shia shrine, killing at least 60 people and injuring 125 others, Iraqi officials said.

On Thursday, 84 people were killed in two separate suicide attacks in Baghdad and Baquba.



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