Rice Makes A Surprise Trip to Iraq

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 16, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 15 -- In a visit shrouded in secrecy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent Sunday in Iraq, encouraging its fledgling government to further incorporate the country's Sunni Muslim Arab minority into the political process to help slow a persistent insurgency.

In a brief interview after nearly 10 hours of high-level meetings here and in the northern region of Kurdistan, Rice also had strong words for Syria, which borders western Iraq, where nine U.S. Marines were killed last week while searching for what they described as foreign fighters who had crossed into the country to conduct attacks.

"There are very deep concerns about Iraq's neighbors," Rice said, referring to Syria and Iran, which borders eastern Iraq. "I heard particularly about Syria, about the gathering of terrorist networks there." Syria is "standing in the way of the Iraqi people's desire for peace if it continues to let its territory be used this way," she said.

Rice's visit was a welcome show of support for the new Iraqi government at a time of relentless insurgent violence here. More than 420 people, the vast majority of them Iraqi, have been killed since April 28, when Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari began announcing members of his cabinet.

The attacks continued Sunday. In Ramadi, west of Baghdad, the Iraqi army discovered the bodies of 10 of its soldiers apparently shot by insurgents, according to Lt. Jawad Abdul Hameed. At least 24 other bodies of slain Iraqis were found in Baghdad and Iskandariyah, south of the capital, where four of the victims had been beheaded, the Reuters news agency reported.

In the city of Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, the governor of the Diyala province, Raad Rashid, survived an assassination attempt when a suicide car bomber attacked a convoy in which he was traveling. In separate incidents in Baghdad, gunmen assassinated an Industry Ministry official and a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a Shiite Muslim and Iraq's most influential spiritual leader, according to Sistani's office in Najaf.

Meanwhile, Raja Nawaf, the governor of Anbar province, who was kidnapped last week during the Marine offensive there, was released Sunday, the Interior Ministry said.

[Police reported Monday that the bodies of 12 Iraqi men, all of whom had been shot, were found in northeastern Baghdad, according to Reuters. The bodies had been found overnight, police said.]

U.S. and Iraqi officials say they believe the onslaught is intended to destabilize the Shiite-led government, which has struggled to incorporate Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, into the governing process.

After several Sunni nominees for cabinet posts refused to serve, all but one Sunni-designated seat is now filled. But a 55-member committee charged with drafting Iraq's constitution by Aug. 15 so far has just one Sunni Arab member. Laith Kubba, a spokesman for the prime minister, said at a news conference that the committee would be expanded to accommodate underrepresented groups. Sunnis, a minority in Iraq, filled most high-ranking positions in the government of former president Saddam Hussein and are widely believed to make up the bulk of the insurgency.

"We talked about how the political process should be inclusive -- and the government is an inclusive government -- and the need for the constitutional writing process to be inclusive," Rice said at a joint news conference held after a meeting with Jafari and some cabinet members in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, where U.S. diplomatic personnel and many of Iraq's government buildings are located.

"We are very keen to have the process be an inclusive process," Jafari said of the effort to forge a constitution. "We are trying to work very hard in order to remedy any shortcomings."

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