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Rice makes surprise visit to Iraq

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Reuters: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday for talks with political leaders grappling with a surge in violence since a new cabinet was formed last month. Reuters

SALAHADDIN – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday for talks with political leaders grappling with a surge in violence since a new cabinet was formed last month.

Rice said she wanted to discuss ways to move the political process forward to help quell an insurgency that has killed more than 400 people in just over two weeks.

“The insurgency is very violent but you defeat insurgencies not just militarily — in fact not especially militarily — you defeat them by having a political alternative that is strong,” she told reporters traveling with her on the plane.

“The Iraqis … are now going to have to intensify their efforts to demonstrate that in fact the political process is the answer for the Iraqi people.”

Extreme security measures were put in place for Rice’s visit. She is the most senior U.S. official to visit Iraq since the new government was formed on April 28.

Only about a dozen State Department officials knew of the trip before Rice left Washington. Even the pilots of the military aircraft that flew her to Arbil, 350 km (220 miles) north of Baghdad, did not know the identity of their passenger until she got on board, her advisers said.

After arriving in Arbil, Rice flew by helicopter to Salahaddin for talks with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani. She wore body armor for the trip, her helicopter skimming low over the ground as machinegunners on board scanned the landscape for potential threats.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari was only told of the visit on Friday, senior Rice adviser Jim Wilkinson said. Rice was scheduled to meet him on Sunday afternoon.

Besides security, Rice said she would also discuss reconstruction efforts and plans for a conference sponsored by the United States and European Union in June, where countries would probably pledge technical assistance, rather than cash, to help the new Iraqi government.

She played down concerns about political bickering that delayed the formation of a government following elections on Jan. 30. She said it would take time to build a democratic system “on the ruins of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”

“If I am surprised by anything, it is that they have been able to do it (in three months),” she told reporters.

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