U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Baghdad on Saturday, a day after suicide bombings killed dozens in the Iraqi capital.
The one-day visit to Baghdad was not previously announced because of security concerns. Clinton, who spoke with reporters after she landed in Kuwait on Friday evening, said she planned to meet with the United State’s top commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, to get his assessment on the recent bombings in Iraq. “I want his evaluation of what these kinds of rejectionist efforts mean,” Clinton said. “And what can be done to prevent them by both the Iraqi government and the U.S. forces.” Clinton added that she did not see signs of rekindled sectarian violence. “I think that the suicide bombings, that are lethal and terrible in the loss of life and the injuries they inflict, are in an unfortunately tragic way the signal that the rejectionists fear that Iraq is going in the right direction.”
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Suicide bombers struck two targets Friday, killing at least 60 people near a holy Shiite shrine in Baghdad and seven people in Diyala, according to security and medical officials. At least 125 others were wounded when two female suicide bombers struck on two roads leading to the Imam Musa al-Kadhim shrine, one of the holiest in Shiite Islam, the Interior Ministry said. Iranian pilgrims were attacked Thursday by a suicide bomber in Diyala, 55 people were killed. Gunmen attacked a group of Shiite pilgrims, wounding seven of them, north of Baghdad early morning Saturday. Watch 24 hours of deadly violence » The Obama administration plans to pull out U.S. forces from Iraqi cities by the end of June, and withdraw all combat forces from the country by the end of 2011 but the recent spate of suicide bombings has raised questions about adhering to that timetable. Clinton praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s “strong stand against armed insurgent elements no matter who they were.” The focus is on a nonsectarian security force that will not tolerate any attacks on the Iraqis, she said. “And we will continue to support their efforts to integrate the military and I think they’ve made a lot of strides,” Clinton added. The secretary of state also plans to meet with the prime minister and other Iraqi officials, including president Jalal Talabani and the United Nations’ top envoy in Iraq, Steffan de Mistura. Her visit coincides with the arrival of the United States’ new ambassador, Christopher Hill, who was confirmed to that post Tuesday in spite of strong opposition from conservative Republicans because of his previous diplomatic record on North Korea. Clinton plans to hold a town hall-style meeting in Baghdad on Saturday, to bring together Iraqi citizens and members of the U.S. provincial reconstruction teams. She will also meet separately with Iraqi women, nongovernmental organizations that support women and government staff dealing with women’s issues.
She said she would focus on the plight of Iraqi war widows, many of whom have been left destitute. Clinton said she has asked the state department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop ideas about working with the Iraqi government to provide financial support to these women and their children. This is Clinton’s fourth visit to Iraq, the first in her capacity as secretary of state.