Rice and Straw arrive unannounced in Baghdad

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Sunday, April 2, 2006

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Jack Straw have made a surprise visit to Baghdad, Iraq to meet Iraqi officials.

The pair, who have been together for the past few days as part of Rice's visit to the United Kingdom, arrived at 10:30 a.m. local time (0630 UTC) to visit Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, among others. Mr. Jaafari, who is of the majority Shia Alliance, is under increasing pressure to stand down after failing to gain adequate support from the opposing Sunni and Kurd minority groups.

According to leading Shia politicians, who are also losing faith in the Prime Minister, the US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has claimed that George W. Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Mr. Jaafari's decision to stay at his post. Mr. Jaafari responded by claiming the comments undermine President Bush's commitment to a democratic Iraq.

The unannounced visit comes after her brief trip to Jack Straw's constituency of Blackburn, England, where she faced anti-war protests. At one speech, she admitted that the United States had made "thousands of tactical errors" in Iraq, but later dismissed the comments as being made purely figuratively.

Comments

On the formation of a united Iraqi government, Condoleezza Rice said she considered it a "matter of urgency." Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, she said that, "The fact that we're going out to have these discussions with the Iraqi leadership is a sign of the urgency which we attach to a need for a government of national unity."

Jack Straw is reported to have said that, "We're committed to Iraq, very committed. But we need to see progress."

Ambassador Khalilzad said last Saturday that the prospective government "...needs to have a good programme to govern from the centre and needs good ministers who are competent." He made a damning comment regarding the speed of the process by claiming that, "Iraq is bleeding while they are moving at a very slow pace."

Sources

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