Rice, Rumsfeld Meet New Leader in Iraq

Jalal Talabani and Donald Rumsfeld i i

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, left, and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, greet each other on April 26, 2006 in Baghdad. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq to show support for the emerging government. Mohammed Hato/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Mohammed Hato/AP
Jalal Talabani and Donald Rumsfeld

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, left, and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, greet each other on April 26, 2006 in Baghdad. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq to show support for the emerging government.

Mohammed Hato/AP

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fly to Baghdad for meetings with the new Iraqi prime minister and other top officials.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. A dramatic show of American support today for Iraq's newly named Prime Minister. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld paid unannounced visits to Baghdad. Rumsfeld flew in overnight from Washington. Rice arrived from Turkey.

NPR'S Jamie Tarabay reports.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Rice came to Iraq earlier this month to press Iraqi politicians to resolve their differences and anoint new leaders after months of bickering. The breakthrough finally came last Saturday, when parliament approved the nomination of Shiite politician Jawad al Maliki as Prime Minister.

Rice came back to Baghdad today to congratulate Maliki and both she and Rumsfeld reiterated Washington's support for the formation of a new four-year government.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (Secretary of Defense): It's not a transitional government. It's not an interim government. It's not a government in council. It's a government, a government of Iraq, and that's an important thing. This is a sovereign country and they're making impressive progress.

TARABAY: The pair met Maliki together. Afterwards, Rumsfeld said he came away most encouraged. Rice described the new Prime Minister as clear and focused, although she acknowledged that Maliki hasn't always had a smooth relationship with U.S. officials.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Secretary of State): We know that he's not always agreed with us or we with him. But he is somebody who has always had the interest of the Iraqis at heart and who has worked hard on their behalf.

TARABAY: Rice and Rumsfeld weren't the only ones prompted to speak out on the appointment of the new Prime Minister. Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi released a video yesterday. In it he said any government formed by Iraq's politicians would be a stooge. But Zarqawi's remarks were quickly dismissed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at a news conference today.

President JALAL TALABANI (Iraq): (Through translator) Zarqawi is not worth talking about. He is a criminal who launched a genocide against the Iraqi people right from the start. He said the Shiites are Atheists, the Kurds are traitors. He even criticized the Sunni Arabs. Our people have begun to hate Zarqawi because of his cruel crimes.

TARABAY: One of Iraq's new vice presidents, Tareq Al Hashemi, a Sunni, also waved off Zarqawi's comments, saying there was nothing new in them. Sunni Arabs formed the bulk of Iraq's insurgency, but Hashemi said Sunni leaders are committed to the political process. He urged Prime Minister designate Maliki to stick to his self-imposed deadline of two weeks to put together a cabinet representing all the major Iraqi factions.

Vice President TAREQ AL HASHEMI (Iraq): (Through translator) He shall find in us, led by President Talabani, all the support he needs to succeed.

TARABAY: The appointment of the Prime Minister has brought no let up in the violence here. Today in Baghdad, at least six civilians were killed in the bombing of a minibus. Four people were gunned down in the mixed neighborhood of Darha (ph). Coalition forces attacked a safe house used by suspected foreign insurgents in New Sephia (ph) near Baghdad. They killed 12 militants and a woman. The U.S. military said all the men had grenades and were wearing ammunition vests. Baghdad's morgue said it received 57 bodies today. Of those, 33 were killed with a bullet to the head.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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