- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

BAGHDAD — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iraqi leaders during an unannounced visit yesterday that they have limited time to end the factional wrangling that has produced political paralysis while violence in Baghdad rises to new heights.

A month before the U.S. midterm elections in which the Iraq war is a major issue, Miss Rice decried “what the American people see on their television screens.”

Iraqi leaders “don’t have time for endless debate of these issues,” she told reporters during the flight to Baghdad, citing the division of oil wealth, changes to the national constitution and the desire for greater regional autonomy.

“They have really got to move forward,” she said. “That is one of the messages that I’ll take, but it will also be a message of support and what can we do to help.”

A senior U.S. official said later that Miss Rice had told the Iraqis that most Americans, when looking at Iraq, “don’t see the fine print” and are unaware of the country’s “historical narrative.”

“What they see is Iraqis killing Iraqis,” he said. “This is not a good picture.”

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell announced a day before Miss Rice’s arrival that the number of planted bombs in Baghdad was “at an all-time high,” while U.S. military fatalities in the capital had jumped to 22 in four days.

The tense security situation was driven home when Miss Rice’s plane was forced to circle for close to an hour before landing because of what U.S. officials described as “indirect” fire against the Baghdad airport complex.

The Sunni speaker of Parliament, Mahmoud Mashadani, suggested to Miss Rice that the United States “reoccupy” Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. The senior U.S. official said that Miss Rice took that to reflect the view of many Sunnis, who once rejected the U.S. presence but now look to the Americans for protection.

The secretary praised a decision by Iraqi authorities on Wednesday to pull a brigade of about 700 policemen out of service because of suspected ties to death squads that have largely targeted Sunnis.

“That’s a very positive thing, because we’ve said many times that the Interior Ministry in the prior government … was not active enough in really rooting out potential corruption and potential violence within the ministry itself or of the ministry forces,” she said.

She credited Nouri al-Maliki’s government for acting against the police brigade and called him “a very good and strong prime minister.” She met with Mr. al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and other Shi’ite and Sunni leaders. She had a second meeting with Mr. al-Maliki at the end of the evening.

“Our role is to support all the parties and, indeed, to press all the parties to work toward that resolution quickly, because obviously the security situation is not one that can be tolerated, and it is not one that is being helped by political inaction,” Miss Rice said.

She urged her hosts “to get a national reconciliation plan, to get everybody to understand precisely how their interests are going to be represented.” She also told them to “pull more people into the political process and out of the insurgency.”

On Monday, Mr. al-Maliki announced a new security plan for Baghdad, creating local committees in which Sunnis and Shi’ites are meant to work together to stop the violence on a district-by-district level. Details of the plan have yet to be fleshed out.

Miss Rice declined to offer specific advice on how Iraqis should amend their constitution or sort out the autonomy issues, but she weighed in on a dispute over the ownership of oil in the Kurdish north.

“We believe that oil has to be a resource for the Iraqi people as a whole, and it has to benefit the Iraqi people as a whole,” she said. “The relationship between the regions, the localities and the center on how exploration is done, how decisions are made, I think that’s what the hydrocarbon law has to address.”

Miss Rice was to visit the Kurdish north today, concluding her fifth visit to Iraq since she became secretary of state in January 2005. She was here twice in April — first with then-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to push for the formation of a Cabinet, and then with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to lend support to Mr. al-Maliki.

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