Rice says next Iraqi prime minister must be strong

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that the next Iraqi prime minister must be a "strong leader" capable of unifying the people of this fractured country.

Rice made the remarks at a press conference on the second day of a visit to Iraq with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, a visit aimed at pressing the Iraqis to complete formation of a national unity government following the Dec. 15 election.

Both Rice and Straw emphasized that it was up to the Iraqis to decide on their new prime minister. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the nominee of the Shiite bloc, has been widely criticized by Sunni and Kurdish politicians whom the Shiites need as partners to govern.

"It is not my responsibility to determine who is going to be the prime minister of Iraq," Rice said. "That can only be determined by the Iraqis."

But she said the next prime minister "needs to be a strong leader, who's a unifying force, and someone who can bring stability and face the challenges of the Iraqi people."

Rice said the Iraqi people and the international community "need to see that process of government formation come to an end," reports the AP.

I.L.