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Rice in Baghdad, Kirkuk to Boost Iraq Reconciliation Efforts

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Iraq Tuesday to press Iraqi leaders to speed up national reconciliation.

Rice had meetings in Baghdad after beginning the unannounced visit in the northern city of Kirkuk. She urged politicians there to promote unity between the oil-rich city's majority Kurds and minority Sunni Arabs and Turkmen.

Sunni Arabs ended a year-long political boycott of Kirkuk's provincial council earlier this month under a deal that guaranteed them government posts. Turkmen politicians are still boycotting the assembly.

Majority Kurds want Kirkuk to be included in their autonomous region of northern Iraq, but non-Kurdish residents fear they could be forced out if the city comes under Kurdish control.

Officials say sectarian divisions in Kirkuk could delay a referendum on the city's status, which Iraq's constitution says should be held by December 31. The United Nations special representative in Iraq is mediating between the factions to try to move the referendum process forward.

In other news, at least 14 people were killed and more than 20 wounded by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives vest near the city of Baquba, 65 kilometers north of Baghdad.

Another suicide bomber exploded his car at a police checkpoint in central Baquba, killing two people and wounding 15.

Meanwhile, the new government of Poland has asked President Lech Kaczynski to approve plans for the country's 900 troops in Iraq to withdraw by October, 2008. Other U.S. allies, such as Britain and Australia, are also scaling back their military presence in Iraq.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.