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Clinton meets with Iraqi officials

KIRKUK, Iraq -- Democratic US senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jack Reed met in this oil-rich northern city yesterday with local officials who urged the visitors to raise the problems of their city with US officials back home.

After the 90-minute private meeting, Kirkuk's governor, Abdel-Rahman Mustafa, said the senators were briefed on the severe economic problems and high unemployment facing the city.

Clinton and Reed arrived under tight security. Their convoy, which included an armored personnel carrier and a Humvee, was protected from the air by two Apache combat helicopters.

Kirkuk has some of Iraq's biggest oil fields, but former President Saddam Hussein neglected the city and oppressed its large Kurdish population.

Asked how could the senators help Kirkuk, Mustafa, a Kurd, said "by making our voice reach the concerned sides" in the United States.

Also attending yesterday's meeting were the head of the City Council, Tahsin Kahya, and an official from the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which is responsible for the administration of Iraq.

Clinton and Reed arrived in Iraq on Friday, a day after President Bush made a surprise trip to Baghdad. Clinton, who represents New York, and Reed, of Rhode Island, spent Friday with military brass and troops, occupation officials, and aid workers.

They said Friday that the costs of rebuilding Iraq should be spread among more nations.

"I'm a big believer that we ought to internationalize this, but it will take a big change in our administration's thinking," Clinton said. "I don't see that it's forthcoming."

Both senators cautioned that new plans to speed the transfer of power to an Iraqi government are risky given the country's political and social instability.

"We're caught in a dilemma, possibly of our own making," Reed said.

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