Clinton renews US support for Iraq and Lebanon

 

US SECRETARY of state Hillary Clinton pledged not to abandon the people of Iraq or Lebanon during unannounced visits to Baghdad and Beirut at the weekend. She flew into Iraq on Saturday morning in the wake of suicide bombings that killed 160 people on Thursday and Friday.

Mrs Clinton said the bombings were “a signal that the rejectionists fear Iraq is going in the right direction” and that she saw “no sign” that Iraqis would return to the sectarian warfare that tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007.

The attacks demonstrated that the Obama administration is likely to face serious violence ahead of the staged withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Although the number of attacks fell from 180 a day in June 2007 to 27 a day in January 2009, the death toll has spiked recently because of a campaign dubbed the “Good Harvest” which is being waged by a coalition of al-Qaeda-allied Sunni fundamentalist factions calling themselves the Islamic State in Iraq.

US troops are set to pull out of Iraq’s cities by the end of June and 90,000 of the deployment of 140,000 is to withdraw from the country by the summer of 2010.

Mrs Clinton met Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, other officials, and US commander Gen Raymond Odierno in the fortified Green Zone. She fielded questions from 100 carefully vetted Iraqis invited to participate in a meeting at the embassy.

In Beirut she discussed Lebanon’s June 7th parliamentary election with President Michel Suleiman. “I [came] to express [US] support for the people of Lebanon, for a free, independent and sovereign Lebanon and for elections that will be free of any intimidation and outside interference,” she said.

In this election the western-backed coalition headed by Saad Hariri, son of slain premier Rafik Hariri, is competing in a tight race with the Hizbullah-led coalition backed by Syria and Iran.

An official accompanying Mrs Clinton said US rapprochement with Damascus would not come at the expense of Lebanon.

Critics of US backing for the Hariri coalition claim that her visit six weeks ahead of the vote amounts to interference in the election but argue that few voters will be swayed by her intervention.

By publicly bolstering the Hariri camp, she is also registering Washington’s displeasure with recent European, particularly British, contacts with Hizbullah which the Obama administration regards as a terrorist organisation.