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Page last updated at 19:08 GMT, Sunday, 20 April 2008 20:08 UK

Rice makes surprise visit to Iraq

Wrecked car in Sadr City 20 April
Fighting in Baghdad's Sadr City left at least six dead on Saturday

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made an unannounced visit to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

She said she hoped to see further reconciliation of the various sectarian groups in Iraq.

Ms Rice said she saw a "coalescing of a centre in Iraqi politics" and that leaders of the various Iraqi factions were more united than ever.

She arrived in the city a day after Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr threatened to wage "open war" on Iraq's government.

He urged them to halt operations against his supporters. But clashes between his forces and Iraqi-led coalition troops are continuing.

Sadr City clashes

Ms Rice said Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites have been working together better than at any time before, the BBC's correspondent Crispin Thorold said from Baghdad.

Condoleezza Rice, in  November 2007
Condoleezza Rice praised the PM's security efforts

At least six people are reported to have been killed and 15 wounded in the latest clashes in the Sadr City area of Baghdad - the site of frequent confrontations between Shia fighters and Iraqi and coalition forces.

A US military spokesman, Adm Patrick Driscoll, said the Iraqi police and army were leading the operation, backed by coalition forces.

Near Nasiriya, in southern Iraq, Iraqi government forces killed 14 Shia militiamen during a clash, US military officials say.

An Iraqi soldier and a policemen were also reported to have been killed.

On Saturday Mr Sadr said he was "giving the last warning and the last word to the Iraqi government".

"Either it comes to its senses and takes the path of peace... or it will be (seen as) the same as the previous government," he said, referring to former President Saddam Hussein's fallen regime.

Obligations

Ms Rice, in the Middle East for conferences with Gulf states, has been calling on Iraq's neighbours to show more diplomatic support for the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

During her journey to Baghdad, Ms Rice praised Mr Maliki's security efforts.

"The neighbours could do more to live up to their obligations because I do believe the Iraqis are beginning to live up to theirs," she told reporters travelling with her.

"The issue of Sadr is an internal Iraqi matter to resolve at this point," she said before holding talks with the PM, not directly addressing Moqtada Sadr's threat.

"But clearly the prime minister has laid down some ground rules which any functioning democratic state would insist upon, having to do with arms belonging to the state, not in private hands."





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