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U.S. Officials See Progress In Iraq

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (right) meets with Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Nuri Kamil al-Maliki at the U.S. Ambassadors House in Baghdad, April 25 (epa) April 26, 2006 -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have made a surprise visit to Baghdad to show support for the country's emerging government.

The two met Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister-designate Nuri Kamil al-Maliki.

Afterward, Rumsfeld said he came away "most encouraged," while Rice described al-Maliki as "very focused."

Earlier, Rumsfeld said the future U.S. troop levels in Iraq would depend on the new government.

Al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, was chosen last week to head Iraq's government, formally ending a four-month deadlock among the country's Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish groups.

The United States hopes a new national unity cabinet will help pull the country out of the insurgency and sectarian strife.

(compiled from agency reports)

Nuri al-Maliki

Nuri al-Maliki

Nuri al-Maliki (epa)

NURI KAMIL AL-MALIKI (Jawad al-Maliki is a nom de guerre) was born in 1950 in the Twayrij al-Hindiyah district of Karbala.
Commonly known as Abu Isra, al-Maliki joined the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party in 1968.
He holds an M.A. in Koran and Arabic Language Studies from Salah al-Din University in Irbil.
Following a crackdown on outlawed parties by the regime of Saddam Hussien, al-Maliki fled the country in 1980, seeking asylum first in Iran and later in Syria.
While in Syria, he also published a magazine -- "Al-Mawqif" ("The Attitude") -- that became the mouthpiece of the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party.
For several years, al-Maliki served as the head of jihad and military operations for the party, subsequently becoming a member of its political bureau.
Following the liberation of Iraq, he served as deputy director of the de-Ba'athification commission established by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
In 2004, al-Maliki was elected deputy speaker of the interim National Assembly.
He played a leading role in settling the August 2004 crisis in Al-Najaf when supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr battled coalition forces for three weeks.
In 2005, he served as chairman of the transitional National Assembly's Security and Defense Committee. He was also a member of the committe responsible for drafting Iraq's new constitution.
He has also served as a spokesman for transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari and as spokesman for the United Iraqi Alliance.

More about al-Maliki:
Premier-Designate Promises Tough Approach

Tough Challenges Face New Prime Minister

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.