The top US diplomat's trip on Friday was kept secret because of security concerns until she landed in Mosul, northern Iraq, where she was set to be briefed by the US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, and US military officials over US efforts to stabilise Iraq ahead of the 15 December elections.

Rice, who flew in from Bahrain, made a personal appeal for Iraqis to bridge sectarian differences, venturing to a majority Sunni Arab region of the country to ask for cooperation in the coming election.

"I want to talk about the importance of reaching across sectarian lines," Rice said.

"The United States is not going to support any particular
political candidate.

Rice said she delivered the same message of unity to Iraqi
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi during her meeting with him in Washington this week.

The visit to Iraq, her second this year, comes as US public and congressional support is waning for the US-led war
in which more than 2040 soldiers have died and many thousands more have been wounded.

Washington fears that the marginalisation of the Sunnis,
many of whom opposed last month's referendum on a new
constitution, would fuel the fighting and further destabilise
the country, keeping US troops there longer.