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Friday, November 11, 2005

Rice, in Iraq, Says Strategy Against Rebels Is Working - New York Times

Rice, in Iraq, Says Strategy Against Rebels Is Working - New York TimesNovember 11, 2005
Rice, in Iraq, Says Strategy Against Rebels Is Working

MOSUL, Iraq, Friday, Nov. 11 - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise stop on Friday in this violent, Sunni-dominated city in northern Iraq , declaring that it had recently become a success story for the strategy of using Iraqi forces to quell the insurgency.

On her way to Mosul, a detour in her trip to the Middle East, Ms. Rice said she wanted to show that the American approach of "clear, hold and build" was working despite criticism at home that the Bush administration lacked a plan for success in Iraq and for the eventual withdrawal of American forces.

"We are working to better unify our political and military activities in the field," Ms. Rice said, citing the creation of three "provincial reconstruction teams," one in Mosul and two in other northern cities, Kirkuk and Hilla. In general, she said, the American objective was to "redefine the mission" toward more cooperation between military forces and the effort to rebuild the area.

Her visit to an area that voted last month against the proposed Iraqi constitution was also intended to underscore American neutrality as Iraqi political factions squabbled over the country's future.

"The United States is not going to support any particular political candidate or any particular party or list," Ms. Rice told reporters before landing here.

But the visit also reflected the delicate situation in Mosul as Ms. Rice - making her second trip to Iraq as secretary of state and her first trip to a Sunni-dominated area outside Baghdad - flew from Bahrain directly to a heavily fortified military base north of the Tigris River, surrounding an old palace of Saddam Hussein's on the city's northern outskirts. The area is now known as Camp Courage.

A month ago, four State Department security officers were killed in Mosul by a roadside bomb, and the city, Iraq's third largest, was not deemed safe enough for her to visit.

Mosul, which is dominated by Sunnis but is ethnically diverse, has had an up-and-down history since the American-led invasion in 2003. It was secure in the occupation's first year, but fell to insurgents after American forces withdrew a year ago. Virtually the entire local Iraqi police force collapsed, overwhelmed by the growing violence that American officials attributed in part to Al Qaeda.

Though two American brigades remain as a backup, American officials say security is mostly provided by the Iraqi Army, which is heavily Kurdish and Shiite, and by the largely Sunni police force.

But American officials say the area remains volatile. The province of Nineveh voted against the constitution, though with a margin short of the two-thirds threshold that would have caused it to be rejected outright.

A senior State Department official said the United States was "very concerned" about allegations of vote fraud but was convinced that any irregularities did not affect the final result. Ms. Rice was due to meet in Mosul with the "provisional reconstruction team" for its official inauguration even though many team members have been here for weeks.

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