BAGHDAD, (AP) -Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit Tuesday to Baghdad, where Iraqi officials said she congratulated the premier on the passage of the so-called de-Baathification legislation and encouraged him to speed along other benchmark laws.
Rice flew from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she was accompanying President Bush on a tour of the Middle East. Her trip was announced in the Saudi capital as Bush was holding talks with Saudi officials.
“President Bush and Secretary Rice decided this would be a good opportunity for the secretary to go to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi officials to build on progress made and to encourage additional political reconciliation and legislative action,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
He said Rice, who began talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in his office, would return to Riyadh Tuesday night.
Ali al-Dabbagh, al-Maliki’s spokesman, said Rice and the prime minister met for about 45 minutes, of which 30 minutes were one-on-one.
He said she briefed him on Bush’s trip and passed along Bush’s congratulations on the passage of legislation reinstating thousands of former supporters of Saddam Hussein’s now-dissolved Baath party to government jobs.
The de-Baathification law is one of 18 steps which the United States considered benchmarks to promoting reconciliation among the country’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
A senior aide to al-Maliki said Rice also encouraged the prime minister to promote the progress of the other benchmark legislation, including provincial elections, constitutional amendments and a law to share the country’s oil and gas resources among the different sects.
On Saturday, Bush had commended Iraq’s parliament for the de-Baathification legislation.
“It’s an important step toward reconciliation,” Bush said then, after more than a year of prodding by the U.S. for action on the law. “It’s an important sign that the leaders of that country understand that they must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people.”
At the same time, Bush said more progress was needed.