BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterpart, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, are in Baghdad for a previously unannounced visit aimed at jump-starting the process of forming a national unity government.
Rice and Straw — who flew into the Iraqi capital Sunday from northwest England — were meeting with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish politicians, who have been stalled in their efforts to form a government following the December 15 parliamentary elections.
“It should be very clear to everyone that the time has come for these negotiations to produce a government of national unity,” according to Rice, who spoke to reporters aboard the plane. “I think we both understand how hard it is, but the Iraqi people need their government and their leaders.”
Straw said that when he visited Iraq five weeks ago, he was assured that a new government would be put together quickly.
“Sadly … this coalition formation has taken much longer,” he said, and cited “significant international concerns” about the delay.
The slow pace of negotiations is believed to be fueling much of Iraq’s sectarian violence, and security concerns most likely will be discussed…
We hate to burst the learned Secretaries’ bubble, but the Sunni Shia troubles go back a few years before the Iraq invasion…about 1350 years actually.
A major stumbling block to the formation of a new government is the choice of a prime minister who can unify the country…
Opposition to al-Jaafari has been growing, and the Shiite coalition is being pressured to reconsider its decision. Political leaders are trying to agree on an acceptable candidate before a legislative vote is taken.
Rice praised Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq, calling him “a voice of reason at difficult times for the Iraqi people, someone who has urged unity in the country.”
Asked whether the United States and Britain are losing patience with the Iraqis, Straw cited the huge financial investment and loss of lives by both countries in trying trying to mold a democratic Iraq.
“We’re committed to Iraq,” Straw said. “Very committed. But we need to see progress. While Rice declined to set a deadline for Iraqis to form a government, she said, “the fact that we’re going out to have these discussions with the leadership is a sign of the urgency which we attach to a need for a government.”…