BAGHDAD, Iraq – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) said Saturday a string of attacks killing more than 50 Iraqis in two days were failed attempts to sow sectarian strife and destabilized the country.
Clinton, a New York Democrat, and Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., were part of a five-member congressional delegation that meting with U.S. officials and members of Iraq's interim government.
Both Clinton and McCain have been strident critics of the Pentagon's planning and management of the war in Iraq. But Clinton said Saturday that Sunni Muslim insurgents were failing in their efforts to destabilize Iraq through sectarian violence.
Her comments came as eight homicide bombings struck in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, killing at least 23 people and wounding dozens Saturday as Shiites (search) celebrated their holiest day of the year. A U.S. soldier was among those killed, the military said.
On Friday, insurgents staged five attacks killing at least 36 people and Shiites blamed radical Sunni Muslim insurgents for attacking them in a string of bombings, shootings and kidnappings.
Authorities had hoped to prevent a repeat of last year's attacks during the Ashoura festival when insurgent blasts killed at least 181 people in Karbala and Baghdad.
Clinton said insurgents had also failed to disrupt Iraq's landmark Jan. 30 elections, won by the Shiite clergy-backed ticket. The United Iraqi Alliance won 140 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly.
"Not one polling place was shut down or overrun and the fact that you have these suicide bombers now, wreaking such hatred and violence while people pray, is to me, an indication of their failure," she said.
"The results of the election are a strong rebuke to those who did not believe that the Iraqi people would take this opportunity to demonstrate their own commitment to their own future."
But Sen. Lindsey Graham (search), a Republican from South Carolina, said he did not believe the U.S. military would leave Iraq anytime soon.
"How long I don't know, but to leave too soon would be devastating to stay too long is unnecessary," Graham said. "I ask the American people to be patient, because what happens here will affect our security back home."
McCain said the U.S. military presence was tied to the numbers of casualties taken by American forces, but he was heartened by the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.
"We have a long hard difficult struggle ahead of us and I'm far more optimistic now," McCain said.
In December, McCain said he had "no confidence" in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, but he added that keeping Rumsfeld in the position was President Bush's choice, not his.
The delegation also was briefed by U.S. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who is leading the effort to create an independent Iraqi security force, McCain said.
The group had not left the Green Zone, home to Iraqi government institutions and the American and British embassies, because of the security situation, McCain said. They were expected to meet with U.S. troops stationed elsewhere in Iraq on Sunday.
At least 1,476 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The five senators that flew into Iraq included Clinton, McCain, Graham, Maine Republican Susan Collins and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold.