Rice arrived in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil on Sunday from Qatar. She had flown from Washington in utter secrecy, with only a few aides informed of the trip.
From Arbil, the secretary of state flew to nearby Salah al-Din -where she was to meet the Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani - in a convoy of Black Hawk helicopters with Apache escorts.
"I've been looking forward for some time to an opportunity to get to Iraq," Rice told a trio of reporters accompanying her.
She said she wanted to discuss ways to move the political process forward in Iraq to help quell violence 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 said.
"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."