US denounces Iraq bombings, no change to withdrawal

WASHINGTON - US Vice President Joe Biden called Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Wednesday to condemn a wave of bombings that killed 95 people in Baghdad, the White House said.
But the United States said it would go ahead with plans to withdraw US forces from the country over the next two years despite signs of rising violence since US troops pulled back from Iraqi cities.
Wednesday's devastating attacks marked the worst day of carnage in the Iraqi capital in 18 months, and the bloodiest since US forces withdrew from the cities at the end of June.

US denounces Iraq bombings, no change to withdrawal
In his phone call to Maliki, Biden voiced "strong condemnation of recent bombings and US solidarity with Iraq as it contends with violent extremists," the White House said.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Ryder called the bombings "unfortunate and tragic."
"We certainly express our condolences to those who lost family and friends," Ryder told AFP. "But in terms of affecting our drawdown plans, there's no effect."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that attacks show "the degree to which extremists will always go to wreak havoc through senseless violence that harms human lives."
Iraqis pointed the finger for the attacks at their domestic security forces, which in turn blamed members of executed former dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.
"These are attempts by insurgent groups to try to exploit sectarian tensions," Ryder said.
"But to this point we have not seen the retributive, retaliatory violence that we saw back in 2006-2007."
He said the US military retained confidence in Iraqi security forces.
"There are certainly still challenges," he said.
"But the security forces continue to make progress and obviously have the lead on security operations. We're confident in their abilities to continue moving forward."
US President Barack Obama has vowed to withdraw all combat troops from the country by the end of August 2010, leaving behind an advisory force of up to 50,000.
A security agreement with Iraq requires all US forces to be out by the end of 2011.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly dismissed suggestions that the attacks showed it was premature for US forces to pull out of Iraq's urban areas.
"We saw these kinds of horrific attacks when we were responsible for security as well," Kelly said.
"I think that the important thing here is that Iraqis want to be responsible for their own security, and we are there to support them to try and deal with these kinds of situations," he said.
He did not rule out that the attacks were the work of the Islamist radical network Al-Qaeda.
"I think, judging on past experience, this kind of coordinated attack has been the hallmark of Al-Qaeda's activities. But I don't have any hard information by way of Al-Qaeda," he said.
Obama on Monday warned that Iraqis would be tested by violent attacks, but repeated his promise that the United States would abide by the 2011 deadline under its security deal with Baghdad.
The US president has sought to shift the focus to the war in Afghanistan while balancing competing demands from the commander in Iraq, amid warnings the situation there remains fragile.
About 131,000 American troops are stationed in Iraq and at least two brigades, or about 10,000 troops, are due to withdraw by the end of the year.
Citing positive security trends, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month the pace of the drawdown might speed up with an additional brigade of up to 5,000 troops possibly departing by 2010.
Despite a reduction in violence compared with 2008, attacks on security forces and civilians remain common in Baghdad, the restive northern city of Mosul and in the ethnically divided oil city of Kirkuk.

Thursday, August 20th 2009

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