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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Iraq Envoy Praises Progress

ReutersIraqi security guards protesting unpaid wages on Sunday in Diwaniya, Iraq.
BAGHDAD -- The departing U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Monday that he believed Iraq was heading in the right direction but cautioned that Iraqi leaders must understand that U.S. voters were increasingly impatient with the war.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leaving his post after a 21-month period that saw a major increase in violence in Baghdad, declared in a news conference that insurgent and militia attacks had decreased by 25 percent in the six weeks since the start of U.S.-Iraqi security plan on Feb. 14.

"I know that we are an impatient people, and I constantly signal to the Iraqi leaders that our patience, or the patience of the American people, is running out," said the Afghanistan-born Khalilzad, who has been nominated by U.S. President George W. Bush as ambassador to the United Nations.

Khalilzad's cautiously optimistic assessment on security coincided with the eruption of sectarian violence in a string of mixed Sunni-Shiite towns south of the capital Monday and over the weekend.

In Iskandariyah, 50 kilometers south of Baghdad, authorities announced an indefinite curfew after two people were killed and two others wounded in sectarian clashes sparked by an attack Monday by suspected Shiite militants on a Sunni mosque, police said.

Iraqi and U.S. forces sealed off the area where the mosque is located, but clashes erupted elsewhere in the town.

The mosque was slightly damaged by rocket-propelled grenade fire.

In Mahaweel, a mainly Shiite town 56 kilometers south of Baghdad, a bomb planted near a Sunni mosque exploded on Monday morning, damaging the building but causing no casualties, police said.

The targeting of the mosques came one day after suspected Shiite militants attacked a Sunni mosque in Haswa, a town near both Iskandariyah and Mahaweel. The attack was apparently in retaliation for a suicide truck bombing against a Shiite mosque that killed 11 people on Saturday, also in Haswa.

Aides to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have said Washington has signaled that he must make progress on a series of benchmark legislative and political measures by June 30 or face a withdrawal of U.S. support for his government.

The United States has denied making the threat, but Khalilzad was clear on Monday that Maliki was under heavy U.S. pressure to move rapidly on several issues, especially a law that would provide a fair distribution of Iraqi oil wealth among all ethnic and sectarian groups, a measure that is especially important to the White House.

He also said Iraq needed to act on political and sectarian reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites, and on amending the constitution to make it more palatable to the Sunnis.