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Clinton Addresses Iraqis at Baghdad Town Hall Meeting

By VOA News

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Baghdad, pledging America's support for Iraq as the country deals with a recent surge in sectarian violence. Clinton arrived in Iraq unannounced Saturday for her first trip to the country as the top U.S. diplomat.

At a town hall meeting with about 150 Iraqi citizens at the U.S. embassy, Clinton appealed for national unity and said only Iraqis could ensure their country's long-term stability.

She also said the United States will continue to work closely with the Iraqi government and security forces as it withdraws its combat troops.

Clinton is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani. She met earlier with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, top U.S. military commanders and the newly arrived U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill.

In the last two days, two suicide bombings have killed more than 150 people. Clinton told reporters the violence is a sign that extremists "fear that Iraq is going in the right direction."

The upsurge in violence also coincides with the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities by the end of June, and preparations for Iraqi elections later this year.

The two deadliest suicide attacks - Thursday in Diyala province and Friday at a Shi'ite shrine in Baghdad - killed mostly Shi'ite worshipers, including Iranian pilgrims.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, although Sunni Muslim extremists have attacked the Shi'ite shrine in northern Baghdad before.

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni, blamed American forces in Iraq for the Iranian deaths. In an address reported by Iranian state media, Ayatollah Khameni said the U.S. military presence in Iraq has incited extremist violence.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

... Payvand News - 04/25/09 ... --

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