Rice, Straw Visit Iraq, Prod Leaders on Government U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw make a surprise visit to Iraq and urge political leaders there to form a government as soon as possible. Steve Inskeep talks to Jamie Tarabay.

Rice, Straw Visit Iraq, Prod Leaders on Government

Rice, Straw Visit Iraq, Prod Leaders on Government

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U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw make a surprise visit to Iraq and urge political leaders there to form a government as soon as possible. Steve Inskeep talks to Jamie Tarabay.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smiles as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw speaks during a joint press conference in Baghdad's heavily fortified green zone on Monday. David Furst/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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David Furst/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smiles as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw speaks during a joint press conference in Baghdad's heavily fortified green zone on Monday.

David Furst/AFP/Getty Images

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Dozens of people are being killed on the average day in Baghdad, and many survivors are moving out of mixed neighborhoods and arming themselves. That's the city Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was visiting today. Three and a half months after an election, she is still trying to persuade Iraqis to agree on a coalition government. Rice warned against a political vacuum, as did her traveling companion, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Mr. JACK STRAW (British Foreign Secretary): If this vacuum continues, then the opportunity for the terrorists and the insurgents who are trying to stop democracy, stop the Iraqi people having their own government, will bluntly expand.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jamie Tarabay has been covering this story from Baghdad and, Jamie, why do these two diplomats think it was necessary to come to Iraq now?

JAMIE TARABAY, reporting:

Well, I think the sense of urgency. It's been more than three months, and there's real pressure from outside, as well as from inside Iraq to actually get this process wrapped up. You know, the sense that there's no real authority is very apparent on the ground here. Both Rice and Straw said that they came with very strong messages from Washington and London. They met with all the major players, and Rice said that she told them all exactly the same thing: get this done.

You know, they both said, again and again, that they weren't here to tell the Iraqis who to pick. They said it was up to the Iraqi people to decide, but they also said that they felt entitled to demand a quick resolution to this. At one point Jack Straw said, you know, the Americans have lost over 2,000 soldiers, the Brits have lost more than 100, they're have been billions of dollars spent, and we have a right to say, where's this government? So that's pretty much the gist of their mission here, of the last few days.

INSKEEP: And we should mention that some Iraqis have been warning them not to meddle in Iraqi politics. But it is fair to ask, why is it taking so long?

TARABAY: There's been a lot of in-fighting over the different positions, although Iraqi leaders recognize that this government is supposed to be permanently in place for the next four years. And they all want a hand in controlling the administration. The Sunnis say they don't want to be given just a couple of superficial posts simply so everyone can say, you know, here we have a unity government. And there's also the very crucial question of who gets to control the interior and defense ministries, which are blamed for much of the security problems here.

At one point, you know, Jack Straw said, they didn't come out and name anyone in particular, and he said, we don't care if it's Mr. A or Mr. B, we just don't want to deal with Mr. Nobody. The whole point is that the Shiite politicians are debating whether to keep Ibrahim al-Jaafari as their nomination for prime minister. The Sunnis and the Kurds don't want him, and that's really stalled progress as well.

It's worth pointing out that Rice said that Iraq needs a leader who can unite all the different people and work to stabilize the country, and that's something that the politicians have accused Jaafari of not being able to do. They say he's very weak and he's failed as the interim prime minister for the past 10 months.

INSKEEP: Jamie, as that power struggle goes on, I want to understand the security situation in the city where you are. And can you just describe what it sounds like in Baghdad, day and night?

TARABAY: You know, every morning there's at least one faint boom that echoes throughout the capital. Gunfire is very, very typical, to the point that everyone is extremely blasé when they hear it. You hear a round of mortar fire, you just carry on with your work; and in fact, Secretary Rice would have heard a couple of mortar rounds last night when she was having dinner in the Green Zone. That definitely, is just part of the atmospherics here in Baghdad every day.

INSKEEP: And, and is it getting worse?

TARABAY: It's scattered. You know there are attacks here and there. As I was driving back from the Green Zone from the press conference today, just two streets down that there was an explosion. It's in different areas, and some of them are very close, and some of them are, you know, a couple of neighborhoods away. It's like this constant staccato. You know, it certainly doesn't recede at all.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jamie Tarabay is in Baghdad. Jamie, thanks very much.

TARABAY: You're welcome.

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