Rice praises steps toward national reconciliation in Iraq

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a surprise trip to Iraq, said Tuesday that national reconciliation has moved along "quite remarkably," citing a new law that allows thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to reclaim government jobs or pensions. Rice, who split off from President Bush's Mideast tour, said the Iraqi parliament's approval of the US-sought benchmark law Saturday was a first step and showed that last year's "surge" of American forces was paying dividends. Rice left Riyadh, the Saudi capital, at 6:40 a.m. to personally deliver Bush's encouragement about signs of progress in Baghdad and decided that she could "help push the momentum by her very presence." She congratulated the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, on the passage of legislation reinstating former Saddam Hussein loyalists to government jobs and pushing for progress on other benchmark laws.