Rice urges unity to combat violence

Secretary of State pays surprise visit on day dozens found dead

? Amid intensifying violence and growing sectarian tensions, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unexpected visit to Baghdad on Sunday to urge Iraq’s new government to do more to defuse the insurgency by accommodating the concerns of disgruntled Sunnis.

As Rice arrived in Baghdad, the grisly discovery of 38 bodies, some with their throats slit, others shot execution style, underscored the urgency of taking action to halt the slide toward violence that has claimed the lives of more than 400 Iraqis since the government was formed April 28.

Rice’s visit was kept under wraps because of security concerns. She first flew to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah for talks with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, and then went to Baghdad, where she met the mostly Shiite leaders of Iraq’s new government in the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Among them was Iraq’s new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the disgraced former Pentagon protege Ahmad Chalabi, one of Iraq’s deputy prime ministers.

Stressing inclusiveness

Speaking to reporters after her talks, Rice said she emphasized the need to include all Iraqis in the political process, including the Sunnis whose boycott of January’s election left them with little representation in the new national assembly that will write Iraq’s constitution.

“The insurgency is very violent, but you defeat insurgencies not just militarily,” Rice said. “The Iraqis … are now going to have to intensify their efforts to demonstrate that in fact the political process is the answer for the Iraqi people.”

Rice’s appeal for inclusiveness seemed to have registered.

Al-Jaafari acknowledged “shortcomings” in the efforts to include Sunnis and promised to try to address them.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaches out to shake hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari at a press conference in Baghdad. Rice arrived Sunday under very heavy security to meet Iraqi leaders grappling with a wave of insurgent attacks that have killed more than 400 people since a new government was formed on April 28.

“We are very keen to have this process be an inclusive process,” al-Jaafari said. “We will try to find ways to have a bigger Sunni participation. At the same time we want to do this in a way that does not infringe on parliamentary traditions and the results of elections.”

Rice said that Iraqi forces were progressing toward securing their own country. “The strategy for the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqi security forces is to equip and train the Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible,” Rice said. “Our promise to the Iraqi leadership is the multinational forces are here to help Iraq defend itself until it can defend itself. We want that to be as soon as possible, I assure you.”

Killing continues

Meanwhile, violence continued, with the discovery of more than 30 corpses in three locations, two suicide bombings in the town of Baqouba that killed four Iraqis, and the assassination in Baghdad of an aide to the top Shiite religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

The bodies of 13 men, their hands bound and with gunshots to the head, were found in the impoverished Baghdad Shiite district of Sadr City, not far from the spot where the bodies of 14 Sunni tribesmen were found under similar circumstances a little over a week ago.

Fifteen corpses were discovered near the town of Latifiyah, in the “Triangle of Death” south of Baghdad.

In the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, 10 soldiers were found with their throats cut, the defense ministry was quoted as saying.

Also Sunday, gunmen freed the kidnapped governor of Iraq’s western Anbar province after U.S. troops ended a weeklong offensive in the region, relatives and a government official said.

Gov. Raja Nawaf Farhan al-Mahalawi was kidnapped May 10 as he drove from Qaim to the provincial capital of Ramadi. The kidnappers later called his family and said they were holding the governor until U.S. forces pull out of Qaim, a Syrian border town about 200 miles west of Baghdad.

The governor’s cousin, Safi Jalal, said Sunday that the captive had been freed.

“He was released and he is currently in the (village) of Obeidi,” he said. “People celebrated by firing shots in the air.”