BAGHDAD – In an unannounced visit to Iraq on Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton downplayed concerns that the country’s hard-won security gains may be deteriorating and said a recent spike in deadly attacks here won’t derail U.S. plans for withdrawal.

The one-day visit, Clinton’s first as secretary of state, came amid renewed fears that widespread violence is returning to Iraq. A string of suicide bombings killed at least 150 people in Baghdad on Thursday and Friday. Attacks have been on the rise since March.

“These are tragic, terrible events, but they do not reflect any diversion from the security progress that has been made,” Clinton contended during a joint press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. “Reaction from the Iraqi people and from Iraqi leaders has been firm and united in rejecting violence.”

Clinton flew to Iraq from Kuwait on Saturday morning aboard a C-17 military cargo jet. She was scheduled to return to Kuwait the same day.

Her visit included meetings with Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Baghdad, and several Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the State Department said.

Accompanying Clinton for much of the day was Christopher Hill, the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq who arrived here Friday.

Clinton said that she and Odierno discussed the recent spate of attacks and that he agrees they should not change U.S. strategy in Iraq.

Zebari agreed that the violence is not an indication that Iraq’s security gains are beginning to reverse. “I personally don’t believe these deadly attacks will derail the government’s plans to stabilize the country,” he told reporters.

Besides sit-downs with top U.S. military and Iraqi leaders, Clinton’s schedule included an hour-long “town hall” style meeting with roughly 200 Iraqis selected by American officials.

During the meeting, held under heavy security inside the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Clinton vowed that America would not abandon Iraq and its struggle for peace. But she added that the time has come for Iraqis to take charge of their own destiny.

“Let me assure you and repeat what President Obama has said: We are committed to Iraq,” Clinton said. “But the nature of our commitment may look somewhat different because we’re going to be withdrawing our combat troops over the next few years.”


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