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Rice Urges Greater Effort to Stem Violence in Surprise Baghdad Visit

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi and U.S. officials on ways to quell violence in Iraq.

Rice is urging top Iraqi officials and political factions to press forward with efforts to stem the mounting death toll from sectarian violence and to resolve other political issues.

She said the time is past for "endless debate" on these matters.

Earlier this week, a U.S. military spokesman said the number of bombings in Baghdad has hit an all-time high.

Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has been under intense pressure to bring an end to Shi'ite-Sunni killings that have torn Iraq apart for months. The violence continues despite the government's calls for militias, many of which have ties to parties in the government, to put down their arms.

Before meeting with Rice, Mr. al-Maliki told the Associated Press a political solution must be found to end Iraq's sectarian violence and lead militias to "dissolve themselves." He underlined force would not work because the militias are aligned with parties that are part of the government and participate in the political process.

Meanwhile, news reports said the man blamed for much of the recent violence, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, had been killed in a raid by U.S. troops.

But U.S. and Iraqi officials later said it was unlikely that Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was among several people killed in the attack. U.S. and Iraqi officials are conducting DNA tests on one of the bodies to be certain.

Al-Muhajer took over the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq after his Jordanian-born predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, died in a U.S. air strike in June.

Earlier this month, Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said U.S. and Iraqi forces were closing in on the militant leader.

Al-Rubaie warned that al-Qaida's new leadership would meet the same fate as the old.

The U.S. military accuses the Islamist terrorist group of fanning the sectarian conflict in Iraq between Sunnis and Shi'ites that has raised concerns about a possible civil war.