U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced visit to Baghdad Saturday for meetings with Iraqi leaders. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from northern Iraq, her trip comes as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue efforts to secure the capital.

Secretary Rice said Baghdad's security operation appears to be off to a good start, but the operation's success cannot be evaluated overnight.

After meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Secretary Rice praised his efforts and said the two discussed ways for the United States to continue to support the security plan.


"I'll say that we're very impressed with the leadership of the prime minister and his team thus far. We believe that they are clearly showing that this can be a new phase for the people of Iraq," she said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have created high hopes among Baghdad residents for the security plan - now in its fourth day. Officials from both countries have called it a success, citing a fall in insurgent attacks, a decrease in the number of bodies found on Baghdad's streets and the return home of some 130 families, who had fled violence in their neighborhoods.

On Saturday in Baghdad, residents told Iraqi television that life has improved under the plan.

This man says, "There is more security now. Before, we couldn't go out in the streets, but, now, we can go and move around. Some shops have opened."

Some residents say that - like the start of previous attempts to increase security in Baghdad - insurgents and sectarian militias appear to have gone into hiding, or left town.

Secretary Rice told reporters traveling with her that, while the decrease in militia killings is a positive development, how Iraqis use that "breathing space" is what is important.

U.S. officials have urged Iraq's Shi'ite-led government to work with Sunni lawmakers to find a political solution for preventing a deepening sectarian war.

Meanwhile, two car bomb blasts in a market in the northern city of Kirkuk killed at least nine people and wounded 60 others. The attacks occurred in a mainly Kurdish area of Kirkuk. Kurds and Arabs frequently clash in the oil-rich, ethnically divided city.