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Rice sees Iraqi unity emerging in battle against Sadr

Secretary of State Rice arrived in Baghdad on Sunday as Iraqi, US, and British forces continued to clash with the Mahdi Army.

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced visit to Baghdad Sunday as Iraq continued its assault on Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in Baghdad and in the southern city of Basra.

Mr. Sadr warned Saturday that continued attacks on his Shiite militiamen could spark an "all-out war." But Ms. Rice sees progress, saying a new political unity was emerging around Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's efforts to diminish the power and influence of the Mahdi Army.

"You have seen a coalescing of a center in Iraqi politics in which the Sunni leadership, the Kurdish leadership, and elements of the Shiite leadership that are not associated with these special groups have been working together better than at any time before," Rice said, referring to "special groups" within the Mahdi Army that the US says are rogue elements trained and funded by Iran.

With Iraq's Sunni and Kurdish leaders backing Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, Rice said the combined effort against Sadr marked a turning point that was a "moment of opportunity."

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