Rumsfeld and Rice Make Surprise Visit to Iraq

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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice make an unannounced visit to Baghdad. The two will meet with newly elected Iraqi leaders to show support for the new government.

Rumsfeld and Rice in Baghdad

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Defense has joined Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on a visit to Iraq. They're both there in an apparent show of support for Iraq's new leaders. Rumsfeld is also conferring with American commanders to discuss possible troop withdrawals later this year.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay is covering the story from Baghdad. And, Jamie, would you describe the situation in the city in which these two officials have arrived?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Well, most of the capital is in security lockdown, and now we know why. They're inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, but outside there is still a lot of violence. There have been roadside bombs targeting Iraqi police patrols; the police report that four bodies were found dumped in different parts of the capital, all shot execution style and all exhibiting signs of torture. Actually, since the weekend and the announcement of this new Iraqi leadership, there have been more attacks and not less.

INSKEEP: So Rumsfeld and Rice are making a statement by coming to Baghdad, and I gather that the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq is making a statement of his own.

TARABAY: That's right. They've all timed their statements, the announcement over the weekend of a new Iraqi leaderships. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi released a video yesterday in which he denigrated this new Iraqi leadership; he said that whatever kind of government is formed, whether it includes Shiites or Kurds or people, he said, pretend to call themselves Sunnis, it was still going to be a stooge government and couldn't be taken seriously. He also warned the U.S. troops that whatever attacks had happened in the past, that they would be even worse now and there would be more pain to come.

INSKEEP: Now, all of this is to congratulate Iraqis unforming a new government. They did name a new prime minister over the weekend, but is it accurate to say that a new government is actually up and running?

TARABAY: Not yet. They're still forming a cabinet. They've only decided on the leadership, and this came after four months of political negotiations. And now, they're talking again about who' going to get the major post. Jawad al-Maliki is very optimistic. He thinks that he'll be able to present a cabinet to the parliament within two weeks, and a lot of the other politicians from the different factions that I've spoken to are also expressing optimism; they are pretty confident that most of the positions have been decided on and that it's only a matter of a few more discussions and they should be able to halter this self-imposed deadline.

INSKEEP: Do things feel less tense than they did?

TARABAY: No, not really. I think the fact that there is this progress on the political front it's given insurgents an incentive to strike out again. The day after al-Maliki was named the new prime minister there were at least seven car bombs in Baghdad. And, you know, two days later, Zarqawi releases this video. I think it's all time to say that there is not going to be any kind of rest or respect for this government, that their number one issue that they have to tackle of security is not going to be any easier for them once they sort things on the political level.

INSKEEP: Okay, that's NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Jamie, thanks very much. And we should also mention that Rumsfeld's journey comes amid calls for his resignation here in the United States. Secretary Rumsfeld was asked if this might be his last trip as secretary of defense to Iraq and Rumsfeld answered, no.

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