US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw arrived Sunday, American and British officials said. The surprise visits come amid growing pressure on Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside as the Shiite nominee for a second term to break the stalemate in talks on forming a new government
A British official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under embassy rules, refused to discuss the purpose of the visit but said Straw would meet with government officials to discuss progress on forming a new government. A spokesperson from the US Embassy confirmed the visit but provided no other details.
Talks among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders have stalled, in part because of opposition to al-Jaafari's nomination by the Shiite bloc. On Saturday, Shiite politician Qassim Dawoud joined Sunnis and Kurds in calling for a new Shiite nominee, the first time a Shiite figure has issued such a public call.