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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
US and UK try to break Iraq delay
Jack Straw and Condoleezza Rice in Baghdad
Jack Straw and Condoleezza Rice travelled to Baghdad from the UK
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw have said it is down to Iraq's people, no-one else, to choose a leader.

However, they said the process to do so must be speeded up.

The pair made the remarks at a joint news conference in Baghdad, on the second day of a surprise visit.

They coupled their remarks with praise for Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Sistani, whom they said had been a voice of restraint amid Iraq's unrest.

Iraq's political parties have been wrangling over forming a new government since December's election.

Mr Straw said the aim of the US-led coalition which invaded Iraq in March 2003 had always been the formation of a sovereign government.

He said while those coalition members did not have the right to impose a government on Iraq, the deaths of their troops meant they did have the right to call on Iraqis to choose one as soon as possible.

Man walking past picture of Grand Ayatollah Sistani
Grand Ayatollah Sistani was described as an anchor for Iraqis
His sentiments were echoed by Ms Rice who said that although she and Mr Straw knew that Iraqi leaders had already been working hard for change, not simply spending their time jockeying for government positions, more must be done.

"It is time to agree on those positions after the Iraqi people braved the terrorists to go to the polls," she said.

Both foreign secretaries were full of praise for Iraqi Shia spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Sistani for the guidance and restraint he had brought to the Shia people amid the continuing violence.

"He is an anchor for that community as well as all Iraqis," Ms Rice said.

Sticking point

On Sunday, the pair, who travelled to Baghdad after Ms Rice's two-day stay in Britain hosted by Mr Straw, held talks with Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and President Jalal Talabani.

There is mounting pressure on Mr Jaafari, of the majority Shia alliance, to stand down as prime minister.

Mr Jaafari was chosen as prime minister by the ruling Shia-led bloc after it won December's election.

But Kurdish and Sunni Arab parties have rejected the nomination and have threatened to boycott a government unless he withdraws.

The delay in forming a government is thought to be partly responsible for fuelling the increasing sectarian violence which has struck since February's bombing of a key Shia shrine in Samarra.

Last week senior Shia politicians said US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, had told them US President George W Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" the retention of Mr Jaafari.

Mr Jaafari responded by saying the comments undermined Mr Bush's commitment to democracy in Iraq.

The White House has denied the US is backing away from Mr Jaafari.


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Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw comment on Iraq's future




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