April 25 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced her support for Iraq’s government during an unannounced visit to Baghdad today, days after the deadliest spate of attacks in the country in the past year.
“We are committed to Iraq, we want to see a stable, sovereign, self-reliant Iraq,” Clinton told an audience including 120 invited Iraqi civilians at the U.S. embassy. Her arrival in the city followed two days of bombings that killed more than 150 people.
The latest bomb attacks were the last gasp of an insurgency that has been severely weakened since 2007, Clinton told reporters. She said the attacks were a “tragic” sign the “rejectionists fear that Iraq is going in the right direction.”
On her first trip to Iraq as secretary of state, Clinton met General Raymond Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in the country, to discuss the spike in fatal attacks, as well as United Nations Special Representative Staffan de Mistura, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and other Iraqi officials.
Clinton said she agrees with Odierno’s view that “these are tragic and terrible events but they do not reflect any diversion from the security progress that has been made.” The Iraqi people and their leaders have been “firm” in “refusing to allow it to set Iraqi against Iraqi,” Clinton said at a press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
Zebari said he doesn’t “believe that these deadly attacks will derail government determination to pursue its plans to stabilize the country.”
Asked if the release by the Pentagon of more photographs of detainee abuse will hurt U.S. relations with Iraq, Clinton said “we’ll wait to see what happens.”
The secretary of state said earlier that her visit is an opportunity to seek ideas from Iraqis of how best to sustain American assistance, especially on the civilian side, as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from cities by June 30 under an agreement signed with the Iraqi government.
Asked how the U.S. will assist in improving education, agriculture and job creation even as American troops are being withdrawn, Clinton said “that as we make this transition, the United States will stand with the people.”
In her talks with Iraqi officials, she raised concerns about the Shiite-dominated government’s progress to create promised jobs for former members of Sunni militias, known as the “Sons of Iraq,” and on tensions between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds.
The U.S. “remains committed to helping them navigate through this period and have a better future,” Clinton said. President Barack Obama, in a visit to Iraq on April 7, encouraged Iraqi leaders to push toward political unity.
Clinton dismissed worries that the latest suicide bombings, which targeted Shiite Muslims at their holiest shrine in Baghdad during Friday prayers, could trigger retaliatory attacks similar to a wave of sectarian violence that wracked Iraq in 2006.
“In any conflict there comes a point” when “a critical mass of people on all sides just say, ‘Enough,’” Clinton told reporters.
Yasser Yasen, 40, the owner of an Iraqi medical supply company who joined the embassy audience, said he appreciated Clinton’s visit after the wave of violence.
“It’s much better here than it was three years ago, but it’s teetering on the edge,” Yasen said. “Any bad steps by the government” could trigger a backlash of violence.
More than 4,200 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since 2003, according to the Pentagon, and almost 100,000 Iraqi civilians, according to the Iraq Body Count Web site. There are currently about 137,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, according to Pentagon figures.
Senior U.S. commanders said this week if the Iraqi government asked them to keep U.S. forces in urban areas where the insurgency is still entrenched beyond the June 30 pullout deadline, they would stay as requested.
“Are there going to be bad days? Yes there are,” Clinton told reporters. “But I don’t know of any difficult international situation anywhere in the world or history where there haven’t been bad days.”
Army General David Petraeus, who heads U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, yesterday told a House committee in Washington the attacks underscore that progress in Iraq remains “fragile and reversible.”
As a Senator, Clinton visited Iraq three times to witness the progress of the war that she voted to authorize. She later said President George W. Bush had mishandled the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
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