Rice Pushes Iraqis to Defuse Violence

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 6, 2006; 6:54 AM

BAGHDAD, Oct. 6 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, making an unannounced visit to Iraq, urged the embattled government to accelerate efforts to foster national reconciliation and help end sectarian violence.

She emphasized her concerns with a trip Friday to the Kurdish north, where regional officials said privately that there is much growing sentiment for independence as violence increases in the rest of Iraq.

Rice Thursday warned that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's six-month-old administration has reached a "critical time" and needs to make faster progress to defuse the turmoil. A day earlier, U.S. military officials announced that the number of planted bombs in Iraq had reached "an all-time high" and that at least 24 U.S. soldiers had been killed since Saturday.

"The security situation is not one that can be tolerated and is not one that is helped by political inaction," Rice told reporters traveling with her.

Although Rice did not give a timeline, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) warned Thursday that the United States should explore a "change of course" if the security situation in Iraq does not improve over the next 90 days.

"If these movements now being taken by the Iraqi leadership and their government do not bring about a reduction in the killings and all of the other disruption and do not point to a clear direction that Iraq is going . . . then I think we have to make some bold decisions here in our country, but make them in a way so that we don't allow this land of Iraq to be torn up and fall into the hands of terrorists," Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at a news conference in Washington after returning from his own trip to Iraq.

After talks with Rice, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari acknowledged that Washington is expressing growing impatience with Iraq and asking for more tangible progress in both security and reconciliation of the country's divided religious, political and ethnic factions.

Over a dinner breaking the dawn-to-dusk fast during the holy month of Ramadan, Rice told Maliki and other Iraqi leaders that it was time for ordinary Iraqis to feel a difference, Zebari said. But he said she also confirmed the Bush administration's full support for the fragile young government.

Iraqi officials told Rice that they need time to make "slow but steady progress" on political reconciliation, for example, before they can act against factional militias, particularly the Shiite militias that might undercut Maliki's own support base, Zebari said. Maliki is a Shiite.

"Our role is not to resolve those issues for them. They are going to have to resolve those issues among themselves," Rice had earlier told reporters traveling with her. "Our role is to support all the parties, indeed to press all the parties to work toward that resolution quickly."

During the dinner, Iraq's parliamentary speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, suggested to Rice that U.S. troops reoccupy Baghdad, where the government's new security plan has made limited progress, according to both Iraqi and U.S. participants. Mashhadani, the leading Sunni Arab in government, until recently had denounced the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Though U.S. officials rejected such a move, they took the exchange as a positive development because it reflected the changing Sunni attitude and a realization that the United States is not the enemy, a senior State Department official told reporters.

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