Clinton reassures Iraq in surprise stop in Baghdad

Published: April 25, 2009

Reporting from Baghdad — On a surprise visit to Baghdad today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she is confident Iraq is on the right track, despite a sudden surge of violence that claimed the lives of nearly 160 people in the previous two days.

Echoing comments frequently made by officials in the Bush administration whenever violence intensified, Clinton told reporters on board her plane that the recent wave of bombings signaled “that the rejectionists fear that Iraq is going in the right direction.”

“I think in Iraq there will always be political conflicts, there will always be, as in any society, sides drawn between different factions, but I really believe Iraq as a whole is on the right track,” the Associated Press quoted her as saying.

Her trip, which was to include meetings with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, seemed aimed at reassuring Iraqis that the U.S. will not abandon them despite the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2011.

“I wanted to come today to repeat the commitment President Obama and I and the American people have to Iraq and to assure you that as we make this transition the United States will stand with the people of Iraq,” she told a town-hall meeting with an invited audience of Iraqis inside the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy.

One member of the audience asked whether the U.S. was engaged in a “kind of retreat” from Iraq, to which Clinton replied that America remains “very committed” to the country.

“But the nature of our commitment will look very different because we are withdrawing our combat troops over the next few years,” she said.

Visits by top U.S. officials are routinely kept under wraps for security reasons, and the Iraqis attending the event had not been told they would be meeting with the secretary of State.

Sheikh Kadhem Qureishi, a cleric from the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City who was seated in the front row, said he was pleasantly surprised to hear that Clinton would be hosting the meeting. “It’s an indication of her good intentions and the interest of the American people in Iraq,” he said.

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