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Rumsfeld Makes Surprise Visit to Baghdad - 2004-05-13

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Baghdad Thursday, as fighting intensified in southern Iraq between coalition forces and Shi'ite militiamen.

Shortly after arriving in the Iraqi capital Thursday, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld began meetings with senior U.S. military officers.

On his flight to Baghdad, Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters he wanted to meet directly with those responsible for the day-to-day operations of U.S.-run detension centers in Iraq. The defense secretary said he cares about detainees being treated right, soldiers behaving right and command systems working. He also said he wanted to thank U.S. troops for the job they are doing.

The visit to Baghdad came less than a day after members of the U.S. Congress were shown unpublished photographs and video clips of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners.

The secretary was accompanied to Baghdad by General Richard Myers, the senior U.S. military officer.

South of Baghdad Thursday, in the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, heavy fighting, gunfire and explosions continued.

Forces loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr intensified their fighting against coalition troops. On Wednesday, the wanted 31-year-old clergyman had called for members of the Shi'ite Mehdi militia to resist U.S. forces in southern Iraq.

The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority has acknowledged that Iraqi officials have initiated negotiations aimed at ending the fighting. However, spokesman Dan Senor said late Wednesday that U.S. officials will not negotiate directly with the militia until Moqtada al-Sadr, who is wanted for the murder last year of a rival pro-U.S. cleric, meets several demands.

"He must submit himself to Iraqi justice," the spokesman said. "There is an Iraqi arrest warrant out for him relating to a murder. Mr. al-Sadr must disband his illegal militia, must return government assets, must order his militia to withdraw from government buildings. Now, there are a number of concrete steps that Mr. al-Sadr must take. That is our starting point and our ending point."

So far, there has been no indication the cleric intends to meet those demands.