Clinton: Recent Violence in Iraq Will Not Derail Security Progress

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says recent violence in Iraq does "not reflect any diversion" from the security progress that has been made.

Clinton condemned a spate of bombings over the past two days in Iraq but says the "reaction from the Iraqi people and Iraqi leaders was firm and united in rejecting that violence."

Clinton spoke Saturday at a joint press conference with Iraq's foreign minister on her first trip to Iraq as America's top diplomat.

Clinton touched down in Baghdad Saturday morning for a lightning round of meetings with American and Iraqi politicians and military officials, all aimed, she said, at helping the fledgling democracy transition to a "stable, sovereign, self-reliant" future.

She also sought to assure Iraqis that the Obama administration won't abandon their country even as it presses ahead with plans to withdraw American troops.

High-profile attacks this past week have primarily targeted Shiite worshippers. More than 150 people have died.

Clinton traveled from Kuwait aboard a C-17 U.S. Air Force cargo plane and under unusually stringent security and secrecy, even by the standards of senior American officials who visit the war zone.

Among those she was scheduled to meet in approximately eight hours on the ground are Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"[T]he Iraqi government has come a long, long way," Clinton told reporters after her arrival in Kuwait. "Many of us were quite impressed with the prime minister's actions against militias in southern Iraq two years ago. It was a turning point. The results of the local elections validated Prime Minister Maliki's strong stance against armed insurgent elements no matter who they were."

The secretary's visit comes more than six years after an American-led coalition toppled dictator Saddam Hussein from power, an invasion and occupation that produced more than 4,300 U.S. casualties and provoked fierce sectarian clashes among Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims throughout the country.

The height of the sectarian bloodletting came in 2006 and 2007. But a "surge" of additional American forces to the theater announced by President Bush, and a tougher counter-insurgency program overseen by Gen. David Petraeus, now the commander of U.S. Central Command, reduced violence levels in Iraq by 70 percent.

Signs of normal life -- weddings, nightclub patronage, lovers' strolls -- have returned to Baghdad and other cities, even as a recent spate of suicide bombings, including one carried out by a woman, carry fresh reminders of Iraq's bloody recent history.

Yet Clinton said she saw no evidence that the recent attacks will rekindle the flames of large-scale sectarian fighting. Rather, she made an argument similar to that advanced by Bush administration officials during the war's most trying periods: namely, that the eruptions of violence point, paradoxically, to the progress Iraq is making.

"These suicide bombings that are lethal and terrible in their loss of life and [in the] injuries that they inflict are, in an unfortunately tragic way, a signal that the rejectionists fear that Iraq is going in the right direction," she told reporters.

"I remember really well that one of the deadliest attacks in Northern Ireland was after the Good Friday accord was signed, in Omagh," she continued. "People were unreconciled to what was the majority opinion, that the majority of people wanted to live in peace."

Iraq is preparing for President Obama's planned withdrawal of U.S. forces by 2011, and some fear the Iraqi police force, half a million strong but often riven in the past by sectarian tensions, could revert to lawlessness once American troops have left the country.

"There are lots of people, inside Iraq and outside, who do not want to see the lawful authority -- a government that consists of representatives from all factions -- be successful in uniting Iraq and ending the violence," Clinton acknowledged.

"So we're going to stand with the government, and everyone who has thrown their lot and, frankly, cast their vote in favor of a stable, sovereign, self-reliant Iraq," she said. "And I think if you look at the evidence, overwhelmingly, the progress that's been made is really impressive.

"Are there going to be bad days? Yes, there are," she added. "But I don't know of any difficult international situation anywhere in the world or history where there haven't been bad days. And we want the Iraqi people to know that the United States remains committed to helping them navigate through this period."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.