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UN's Annan Calls For Reconciliation In Iraq

Annan (L) arriving in Baghdad on 12 November (AFP) United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is making a surprise visit to Iraq. It's his first since the U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein two years ago. The trip comes amid continuing violence in Baghdad, where a car bomb killed at least four people at a market today.

Prague, 12 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Annan arrived in Baghdad on an unexpected visit amid tight security.

First a meeting, and then a joint press conference, with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Ja'fari.

The UN chief offered his support for efforts to reconcile Iraq's rival communities, particularly ahead of December's legislative elections.

"We have been working with the government to ensure smooth political transition and of course we will work with them on the upcoming elections," Annan said. "We have a clear mandate from the Security Council to work with the government and the people of Iraq to ensure that Iraq takes charge of its own future and develops a stable, peaceful society."

"Today UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan visits us with an accompanying delegation on an inspection visit to Iraq," Ja'fari said. "He has a good and positive evaluation of the political process in Iraq and the constitution. He affirmed that the United Nations stands in support of Iraq and the democratic process. He also asked if there are any suggestions for more support from the United Nations and [expressed] the readiness of the United Nations to support Iraq and to keep the support of the new Iraq."

Annan's visit follows a trip by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who made similar appeals for unity.

In the Iraqi capital on 11 November, Rice urged Kurds, the majority Shi'ites, and the Sunni Arab minority to bury their differences and turn out at the polls in December's parliamentary elections:

"I've been meeting with nongovernmental organizations that are assisting in the political process and they talk about the very active Sunni [Arab] participation now to form political groupings, to put forward a list [of candidates], to educate voters, to encourage voter turnout, and so I think that the remarkable thing is that there is such high activity among the Sunni [Arab] population, and that should be encouraged," Rice said.

This is the UN chief's first visit to Iraq since U.S.-led forces ousted former dictator Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

The United Nations withdrew international staffers two years ago after its Iraq envoy and at least 20 others were killed in a Baghdad bombing.

Since then it's been operating in Iraq at greatly reduced levels, and Iraqi officials have been pressing it to increase its involvement in humanitarian, political and reconstruction activities.

But even as Annan arrived in Baghdad, there was more violence.

A car bomb exploded in a vegetable market in the east of the capital, killing at least four people and injuring 40 other -- most of them women and children.

(compiled from agency reports)

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Iraq In Transition

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