TIKRIT, Iraq, March 10 (UPI) -- U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker hailed 2008 as the year of reconstruction at a conference with northern provincial leaders.
Crocker echoed the sentiments of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, who said at the third installment of the United and Strong conference that the U.S.-Iraqi partnership was stronger than ever.
The United and Strong campaign allows Iraqi officials and U.S. military overseers to consolidate issues concerning the northern provinces in order to present a unified voice to the Iraqi central government.
The U.S. government has spent more than $20 billion on various project throughout Iraq, but Crocker said new funding for the future goes to "representatives of the Iraqi people" to focus on their projects and services.
Crocker noted that challenges face all levels of the Iraqi government to confront corruption and collaborate with the efforts of federal, provincial and local leaders.
He stressed the opportunity was upon the Iraqi leaders to take advantage of the security gains and "to make them permanent through the provision of services, of jobs, of all the things that give Iraqi people everywhere a stake in this new democracy."