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Rice awkward as she meets Iraq PM over govt

By Super

Baghdad, Apr 2: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began talks today with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is under pressure from the United States and sections of his own Shi'ite Alliance to step down.

Rice smiled frostily and appeared awkward as she and Jaafari exchanged pleasantries before photographers at the start of their talks, chatting about the rare rain falling on Baghdad.

''It is a good sign,'' Jaafari said. ''I am sure you can notice the difference because you come frequently to Iraq.'' Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had arrived on an unannounced visit to push for the formation of a new government of national unity, which has been blocked by Jaafari's refusal to heed calls to step aside.

The prime minister is facing growing calls to step down to assist the formation of a government, not only from Kurdish and Sunni Arab groups but also increasingly from inside his own Shi'ite Alliance.

Sectarian violence has exploded since the bombing of a major Shi'ite shrine last month touched off reprisals and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. Hundreds of bodies have turned up on the streets, many showing signs of torture.


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