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The U.S. and Britain are putting more pressure on Iraqi politicians to form a new government. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and her British counterpart, Jack Straw, have wrapped up a two-day visit to Baghdad. They met with Iraqi leaders to push for an end to the political stalemate. NPR's Jamie Tarabay has the latest from Baghdad.
JAMIE TARABAY reporting:
Rice and Straw were forced to travel along one of Iraq's most dangerous roads yesterday, from Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone, because of a rare thunderstorm that grounded their helicopter. Mortar rounds echoed around the capital as they dined with Iraqi politicians. And this morning, as they prepared to address the media, two car bombs exploded in Baghdad.
At least two civilians were killed and half a dozen others wounded. The worsening violence made their visit even more urgent, as Straw pointed out.
Mr. JACK STRAW (UK foreign Secretary): There is frankly no doubt that the political vacuum that is here at the moment is not assisting the security situation, and the country's got to be able to move forward.
TARABAY: Straw and Rice were at pains to emphasize they didn't come to Baghdad to tell the Iraqis how to resolve the political deadlock, but in a manner of speaking, they say they've paid for the right to demand it end soon.
Mr. STRAW: Please, the Americans have lost over 2,000 people. We've lost over 100. There are 140,000 overseas troops here, hoping to keep the peace in Iraq, and billions, billions of United States dollars, hundreds of millions of British pound sterlings has come into this country.
TARABAY: Both diplomats say it's time to resolve the dispute over who's to be Iraq's next Prime Minister. Secretary Rice could barely disguise her discomfort when she met yesterday with Ibrahim al Jaafari. He was nominated for the post by the main Shiite Alliance, despite strong objections from Sunni and Kurdish leaders.
He's so far refused to withdraw his candidacy, even though some other members of his own alliance have begun to speak out against him. There are reports the Alliance has issued Jaafari an ultimatum to put together a government before the end of the week, a seemingly impossible task. While she didn't weigh in publicly on Jaafari's status, Rice said the new prime minister has to be a strong figure.
Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Someone who can bring stability and meet the challenges that face the Iraqi people, but it is not our job to say who that person is going to be.
TARABAY: Straw and Rice both paid particular tribute to the Shiite's highest religious authority, Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani. They praised him, saying he's urged restraint among the Shiites in the face of relentless attacks from mainly Sunni insurgence. Jack Straw acknowledged that even when a new government is formed, Iraq's problems won't magically disappear.
Mr. STRAW: But we are saying that getting established, a government with a four-year perspective, with leaders who feel secure in their position is a fundamental precondition to resolving these other matters, including the issue of militias.
TARABAY: Those militias have been blamed for much of the ongoing violence in Iraq. Today, police reported a Shiite family of four was gunned down it its home of a volatile Baghdad neighborhood. The U.S. military reported the deaths of eight marines and a sailor.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.
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