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Rockets hit Baghdad Green Zone as Panetta visits

Rocket attacks in Baghdad's Green Zone wound a woman and three children as US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta asks Iraqi officials to accept American troops beyond 2011

AFP , Monday 11 Jul 2011
U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta visits Camp Victory in Baghdad (Reuters)
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Three rockets slammed into Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone on Monday, wounding a woman and her children, officials said, as US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta began the second day of a visit to press Iraqi leaders on security.

The rockets wounded the woman and her three children, a security official said, but there was no report or indication the missiles had landed anywhere close to the US Embassy inside the zone.

"Three rockets landed in the Green Zone at 7:30 am (04:30 GMT), and wounded a woman and her three children," the official said, adding the missiles were launched from the Shiite district of Zafraniyah in southern Baghdad.

Panetta was due to meet President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki inside the Green Zone later on Monday. Rocket attacks against the Green Zone, which houses several embassies and Iraqi ministries, are common but casualties are rare.

Panetta, who took office at the start of July, flew into Baghdad on Sunday to urge Iraqi leaders to decide soon on whether they want US troops beyond the scheduled pullout at the end of this year, a senior US defence official said.

His visit coincided with the killing of a US soldier in southern Iraq, the third such casualty so far this month. June was the deadliest month in three years for American forces, with 14 killed in separate attacks.

About 46,000 US troops remain in Iraq, down from a high of 170,000 after the 2003 US-led invasion. They are scheduled to leave in less than six months unless a deal is reached between Baghdad and Washington.

Asked about increased attacks on US forces by Shiite militants backed by Iran, Panetta expressed "tremendous concern," and called on Iraq to do more to "go after those extremists that are making use of these weapons" supplied by Tehran.

"If we're all gonna be partners, they have a responsibility to protect against that kind of attack. It's in the interest of Iraq to provide for their own security," he said.
Iran has denied US accusations that it was smuggling weapons to insurgents in two of its neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Panetta said the United States was open to a request by Iraq on a troop extension.

"If they are to make a proposal with regards to the continuing US presence there, they have to make a formal request that we would obviously consider," Panetta told reporters.

Panetta is the latest top US official to arrive in Iraq, asking officials to accept a contingent of American troops beyond 2011. US diplomatic sources in Baghdad say there has been no talk on the possible number who could remain.

A possible extension would be deeply unpopular among the public in Iraq, where many people look upon the American soldiers as "occupiers."

Talabani, a Kurd, said on Saturday that political parties would announce their decision in two weeks on whether they want some US forces to remain. But Ali Mussawi, Maliki's media adviser, told AFP on Sunday that a decision within two weeks was unlikely.

Some Kurdish officials have said they want US forces to stay beyond the deadline, but the powerful Shiite movement of Moqtada al-Sadr has threatened to resume armed attacks on American troops if they extend their stay.

The US Embassy has been expanding its diplomatic presence in Iraq ahead of a military pullout, as it takes over functions now performed by American forces.
A US consulate was opened on Sunday in the city of Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. Last week, another US consulate opened in the southern port city of Basra.

Panetta said he would also press Iraqi leaders to speedily appoint defence and interior ministers, posts which have remained vacant due to political bickering since the formation of a unity government last December.

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