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Iraq 'stepping back from the abyss,' U.N. chief says

  • Story Highlights
  • U.N. chief says problems remain, but he touts "notable progress"
  • Remarks come at opening of international conference in Sweden
  • Turkish planes attack Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq
  • Two suicide bombings kill at least 18 people in northern Iraq
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(CNN) -- "Notable progress" has been made in Iraq despite persistent problems, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday at an international summit to promote peace in the violence-wracked country.

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A U.S. soldier hands out candy to Iraqi children Wednesday in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood.

"If we were asked to use just one word to describe the situation in Iraq today, I would choose the word 'hope,' " Ban said at the Stockholm, Sweden, conference. "Iraq is stepping back from the abyss that we feared most."

Yet Iraqis continue to suffer from terrorism, sectarian violence and criminality, he said, and "essential services are still sorely lacking."

Forced displacement and human-rights violations remain problems, particularly for women and minorities, he said, but the level of violence has declined from that of 2006 and part of 2007.

"There is new hope that the people and government of Iraq are overcoming daunting challenges and working together to rebuild their country after years of war, neglect and dictatorship," Ban said.

The secretary-general spoke at the summit known as the International Compact with Iraq. Officials from Arab nations, the United States, Iran and other countries are attending the summit, hosted by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

It is the second such international meeting; the first was held last year in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Officials plan to discuss debt relief and attendant issues that lenders care about -- economic reconstruction, elections, corruption, the oil industry, the refugee crisis and political and security developments.

Meanwhile, violence swept through northern Iraq on Thursday as Turkish warplanes pounded Kurdish rebel targets and suicide bombers killed at least 18 people in a nearby province, authorities in Iraq said.

The airstrikes are the latest Turkish forays against Kurdistan Workers Party militants who have conducted cross-border attacks against Turkish targets from Iraq's Kurdish region.

Thursday's attacks occurred in the Sidakan area north of Irbil province from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., said Jabbar Yawer, the spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdish Regional security forces. There were no reports of casualties.

Irbil, Duhuk and Sulaimaniya provinces make up Iraq's Kurdish region.

An Iraqi Interior Ministry official reported two suicide attacks in Nineveh province, where the Iraqi government is leading an offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq.

A suicide bomber struck an Iraqi army recruitment center near the town of Sinjar, about 81 miles (130 kilometers) west of Mosul, near the Syrian border, a ministry official said. At least 16 people were killed and 18 wounded, the official said.

Another bomber driving a police vehicle killed two police officers and wounded eight people in Mosul by striking an Iraqi police patrol, a ministry official said.

Other developments

  • The U.S. military reported the detention of "11 suspected al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists" Wednesday and Thursday in Mosul.
  • The military also reported the arrest of a militant financier in Mahmoudiya, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Baghdad. The militant is suspected of being a link between Iranian intelligence elements and Shiite militants.
  • A "surge" brigade of 4,000 soldiers is returning to the United States in June after being stationed in volatile Diyala province for more than a year, the U.S. military said Thursday. It is the fourth of five units heading back to the United States, with the last expected to leave by the end of July. The surge is the name of the U.S. troop escalation in 2007. Once the surge brigades redeploy in July, commanders will determine future deployments after a 45-day pause.
  • CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

    All About IraqBan Ki-moonNuri al-MalikiMosul

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