Rice makes surprise visit to Iraq


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Iraq today to reach out to minority Sunni Muslims to help defuse an insurgency, as authorities said they had found the bodies of 34 men killed by insurgents.

During the surprise visit, Ms Rice said she wanted to move the political process ahead and undercut the insurgency that is being led by Sunni Arabs.

Insurgent attacks have killed more than 400 people since the new cabinet was named on April 28th.

In talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, Ms Rice discussed speeding up the training of Iraqi forces to take on greater security duties. "We are fighting a very tough set of terrorists who are, it seems, determined to stop the progress of the Iraqi people," Mr Rice told a news conference.

US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Ms Rice's trip was part of a US effort to extend a hand of friendship to Sunni Muslims, who dominated under Saddam Hussein.

Ms Rice, the most senior US official to visit since Mr Jaafari formed his government, arrived in Arbil in northern Iraq to meet with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani before moving on to Baghdad.

Asked about the importance of drafting a new constitution by an August 15th deadline, Ms Rice said: "Things do not happen overnight. We have become very impatient people. Iraq is emerging from a long national nightmare of tyranny into freedom."

The new constitution to be drafted by Mr Jaafari's government and the National Assembly will be the basis for December elections.