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Marking the third anniversary of “Iraqi Freedom Day,” the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and the top American general in the country issued a joint statement on Sunday calling on Iraqi leaders to form a “competent” government and asking for a pause to remember all of those killed since April 2003.

Three years ago, on April 9, Iraqis and U.S. Marines toppled a large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdo Square; captured by news crews, the act became symbolic of the fall of Baghdad and the end of Hussein’s regime. In their statement, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George W. Casey said, more than a symbolic act, “it signalled the beginning of a fledgling democracy that continues to mature.”

At the same time, the U.S. officials continued putting pressure on Iraqi politicians to finalize a national unity government, a step that military and political officials hope will stem some of the violence.

“Despite much progress, much work remains. We must continue to help Iraqis create a strong, stable and successful new democracy. The Iraqi people and their elected representatives must choose a competent government that will develop a program for Iraq that benefits all Iraqis,” the statement read.

“The legitimate security forces must quell sectarian violence. Population centers must be secure to allow Iraq’s new institutions to take root and businesses to flourish. Finally, the people must be able to trust their leadership and the institutions of the state.”

Khalilzad and Casey did list a series of successes: Over the last year, they said, Iraqi forces have almost doubled from 127,000 to more than 250,000. “By the end of summer,” the statement said, “75 percent of the [Iraqi] brigades and battalions will be leading counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, with the coalition in support.”

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