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Rice Makes Surprise Visit to Iraq Amid Escalating Violence

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice listens while Iraqi PM Ibrahim al-Jafaari speaks at a press conference in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone in Iraq
On a surprise visit to Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that country is emerging from a long nightmare of tyranny into freedom. On her trip, she met with key government figures, including President Jalal Talabani. Ms. Rice said the political process is the answer for the Iraqi people.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced, and heavily guarded, visit to Iraq, where she met Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and key officials in his recently formed cabinet.

After the meeting, Secretary Rice spoke about the need for Iraq's constitutional process to include all of the country's main ethnic and religious groups.

"We are impressed that the government is inclusive… there is a need for the constitutional process to be inclusive," she said.

Secretary Rice and Mr. Jaafari also talked about the need for ongoing support from the international community, as well as about the need to equip and train Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible.

She pointed out that only one year has passed since Iraqis regained their sovereignty, and only weeks since the formation of an elected government.

Ms. Rice said that Iraq could not be fixed overnight, but that progress was being made. "I think we are all impressed with the progress Iraqi security forces are making," said Ms. Rice.

She refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of the U.S. led coalition's troops.

Her first stop was the northern city of Salahuddin, followed by a meeting with Kurdish Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani at his mountain headquarters.

The one-day trip was Ms. Rice's first visit to Iraq since her appointment as the U.S. government's top diplomat.

Previously, she accompanied President Bush on a visit for Thanksgiving in 2003. The former National Security Advisor was one of the main policymakers behind the U.S.-led invasion.

She is the first senior U.S. official to visit Iraq since Mr. Jaafari's government was sworn in.

Her visit came as U.S. Marines wrapped up a week-long offensive against insurgents along the Syrian border. Operation Matador left about 125 insurgents dead, and secured an area known as the main route into Iraq used by foreign fighters, including suicide bombers.

Iraq has witnessed a surge of militant attacks since April 28, when the government was announced.

As the U.S. offensive ended, followers of Jordanian militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi reportedly released Anbar provincial governor Raja Nawaf, who was taken captive prior to Operation Matador. The governor's family said he was released without conditions.

But elsewhere in Iraq, bombings and drive-by shootings continued, killing a high-ranking Shiite cleric and a Ministry of Industry official.

Police, meanwhile, said they had found the bodies of 34 men, shot dead execution-style. Police said the bodies were found at three different locations within less than 24 hours.