MOSUL, Iraq — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq early today, flying into this northern city to meet with local government officials and attend an inaugural ceremony for the first mixed U.S. civilian-military unit formed in the country.
Rice flew into Mosul from Bahrain, to which she will return today on her weeklong trip to the Middle East and Asia. It is her first visit to Iraq since last spring, and she said one reason for her stop was to review the new team, which is meant to accelerate reconstruction efforts by providing better local-level coordination.
The unit, called a Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT, consists of diplomats, aid workers and military civil affairs personnel, as well as troops to provide security. The group, and others like it, will work with local Iraqi governments to smooth what Rice called "reconstruction with a small R." The teams will eventually also include Justice Department advisors.
The Mosul team of about 60 to 100 people is the first to begin operation, and two others will soon follow suit, officials traveling with Rice said. One of the others will be in the northern city of Kirkuk, the other in Hillah in central Iraq. Mosul, an ethnically mixed city of Sunnis and Kurds, is a key urban center in northern Iraq, located on a main supply route linking Baghdad to the south and Turkey to the north.
The teams are part of a revised U.S. counterinsurgency strategy known as "clear, hold and build." Similar teams have proved successful in helping rebuild Afghanistan following the American-led invasion of that country four years ago.
For much of the first two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the military would clean out insurgent-held areas but then often withdraw, only to watch the insurgents reappear.
While in Mosul, Rice was scheduled to be briefed by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the regional military commander, Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, about conditions in the area, then meet with American forces in and around Mosul, as well as Iraqi officials.
En route to Bahrain on Thursday, Rice said the United States remained committed to resolving the Iran nuclear crisis diplomatically but made clear that it would not support any solution that would leave Tehran in control of even small amounts nuclear fuel.
Her comments seemed to cast doubt on reports that the administration was working with three European Union representatives -- Britain, France and Germany -- to present Tehran a deal that could allow Iran a small, independent nuclear-fuel program of its own.
"There is no EU-U.S. proposal to the Iranians," she said.
However, Rice indicated the U.S. would probably back an agreement in which Iran would be permitted to operate a civilian nuclear power program using fuel that was supplied, controlled and, once used, returned to an outside supplier.
Iranian officials have rejected the proposal, saying it would leave their nation dependent on outside sources for nuclear fuel.
Rice's Middle East visit is intended to push the Bush administration's initiative to spread democracy in the region and coax Israel and the Palestinians to consolidate last summer's withdrawal of Jewish settlers and Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.
After leaving Israel on Monday, Rice is scheduled to go to South Korea.