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Chris Hill expected to be named US envoy to Iraq

CHRIS Hill, a career US diplomat who has been Washington's lead negotiator with North Korea, is expected to be named US ambassador to Iraq, a US official who asked not to be named said yesterday.

Hill has extensive experience in Europe. If formally nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate, he would replace Ryan Crocker, an Arabic speaker who has served as US ambassador to Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon.

"For the secretary and, of course, for the president, Iraq is a high priority and they are looking at Iraq policy and when we have a nomination to put forward, the White House will make that public," said State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid.

News that Hill was in line for the job was first reported by ABC News on its website.

The United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 to topple former dictator Saddam Hussein, igniting a brutal sectarian war that has slowly subsided.

Obama pledged in his presidential campaign to withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months and on Sunday said that a substantial number of the 140,000 US soldiers would leave within a year.

Iraqis on Saturday held their most peaceful election since the fall of Saddam, voting for provincial councils without a single major attack in a poll that demonstrated the country's dramatic security gains.

However, analysts say Iraq remains fragile despite the gradual reduction of violence that followed former US President George W. Bush's "surge" of US troops in 2007.

Hill has spent the last four years as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and as the senior US official in multilateral talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs.

Earlier in his career, he served as ambassador to South Korea, Poland and Macedonia and as special envoy to Kosovo. He speaks Polish, Serbo-Croatian, and Macedonian.


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