Rice in surprise Iraq visit

The US secretary of state praises Baghdad security crackdown as 'very impressive'.

    Rice held talks with Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president [EPA]

    "[But] if militias decide to stand down and stop killing innocent Iraqis... that can't be a bad thing."


    "If militias decide to stand down and stop killing innocent Iraqis... that can't be a bad thing"

    Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state

    However, she said Iraqi
    officials had to take advantage of any "breathing space" created by the security push, seen by many as the final push to end violence.


    Qasim al-Musawi, an Iraqi army spokesman, told a Baghdad press briefing on Saturday that attacks and killings in Baghdad had dropped by 80 per cent since the plan's launch.


    "The morgue was receiving 40 to 50 bodies per day before and now has received only 20 in the last 48 hours," he said.


    However, Rice's visit came as a twin car bombing killed at least 10 people and wounded 32 in a crowded market in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, police sources said on Saturday.


    'Need to deliver'


    Rice met Iraq's prime minister. Nour Maliki, the president, Jalal Talabani, and other leaders.


    The US secretary of state she had hoped to press home to Iraqi officials that they needed to speed up efforts to reconcile Shia and Sunni groups, finalise an oil revenue sharing law and hold provincial elections.


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    "The wait for progress can't be endless. Those [issues] need to move along more quickly," she said.


    "This is a group of leaders that need to deliver."


    Rice was also briefed by US commander General David H Petraeus, who has just taken over as head of more than 150,000 multi-national forces in Iraq.


    She will later travel to Jerusalem where she will hold talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, days after the Palestinians announced the formation of a new unity government.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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