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Rice Makes Unannounced Visit to Baghdad, Praises Steps Toward Reconciliation


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made a surprise visit to Baghdad where she praised recent steps toward national reconciliation. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports Rice slipped into Iraq from Saudi Arabia, where she was accompanying President Bush on his Mideast tour.

Rice arrived in Baghdad with no advance notice, and went quickly into talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other officials.

In praising the Iraqi government the secretary said national reconciliation efforts were moving along "quite remarkably."

"A democratic and unified Iraq is here to stay and while it may have challenges, it has passed through some very difficult times and is now moving forward in a way that is promising, if still fragile," she said.

The secretary of state was referring to a new law that Iraq's parliament passed Saturday that allows members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to reclaim government jobs. The bill is one of several steps the Bush administration has been urging the Iraqi government to take to ease tensions between once-dominant Sunnis and majority Shiite Muslims in Iraq.

Rice said passage of the new law is a sign that reconciliation is moving along.

"This law ... is clearly a step forward for national reconciliation, it is clearly a step forward for the process of healing the wounds of the past," she said.

While welcoming the new law, Rice noted that much more work remains, including passage of a bill on sharing oil revenues and another on provincial elections.

During her brief stay in Baghdad, Rice also briefed Prime Minister Maliki on President Bush's Middle East tour.

Throughout his stay in the region, the president has been urging Arab countries to support the young Iraqi democracy. He also visited a U.S. military base in Kuwait where he met with the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the senior American diplomat in Baghdad, Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

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