Sens. Clinton, Reed Meet With Kirkuk Officials

U.S. senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) and Jack Reed (search) met in this oil-rich northern city Saturday with local officials who urged the visitors to raise the problems of their city with U.S. officials back home.

After the 90-minute private meeting, Kirkuk's (search) governor Abdel-Rahman Mustafa said the senators were briefed on the severe economic problems and high unemployment facing the city.

Clinton and Reed arrived under tight security. Their convoy, which included an armored personnel carrier and a Humvee, was protected from the air by two Apache helicopters.

Kirkuk has some of Iraq's biggest oil fields, but former President Saddam Hussein neglected the city and oppressed its large Kurdish population.

Asked how could the senators help Kirkuk, Mustafa, a Kurd, said "by making our voice reach the concerned sides" in the United States.

Also attending Saturday's meeting were the head of the City Council, Tahsin Kahya, and an official from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which is responsible for the administration of Iraq.

Clinton and Reed arrived in Iraq on Friday, a day after President Bush made a surprise trip to Baghdad. Clinton, a Democrat from New York, and Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, spent Friday with military brass and troops, occupation officials and aid workers.

They said Friday that the costs of rebuilding Iraq should be spread among more nations.

"I'm a big believer that we ought to internationalize this, but it will take a big change in our administration's thinking," Clinton said. "I don't see that it's forthcoming."

Both senators cautioned that new plans to speed the transfer of power to an Iraqi government are risky given the country's political and social instability. Reed said a "critical factor" for coalition authorities was securing the blessing of Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim community, especially Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who has criticized the plan.

"We're caught in a dilemma, possibly of our own making," Reed said. "A quick, hasty election might bring to power a person who doesn't share the values we're trying to encourage. But the more we wait, the more it looks like an occupation."