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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rice Sneaks to Iraq For a Surprise Visit

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Secrecy for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Iraq on Sunday was so tight that even her pilot did not know his passenger's name until she got on board.

U.S. officials took extreme precautions to protect Rice from the Iraqi insurgency, putting her in a bulletproof vest and combat helmet at times, keeping many of her own colleagues in the dark and telling Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari that she was coming only 48 hours before her arrival.

Rice came to discuss security, plans for a new constitution and elections, and reconstruction with the new government.

Security preparations for her visit were extraordinary but not as draconian as those for President George W. Bush's November 2003 visit, when he had Thanksgiving dinner with U.S. troops. News of Bush's trip was reported only after he had left Iraq.

Rice, who accompanied Bush to Baghdad, had planned to visit Iraq in March for the first time as secretary of state but canceled the trip because word of it leaked.

To keep the secret this time, only about a dozen State Department officials knew of her trip before Rice left Washington on Saturday morning, and Jaafari was told only on Friday.

"We went to every length possible to keep it from as many people as possible. If you didn't need to know, you didn't know," Jim Wilkinson, Rice's senior adviser, told reporters.

The State Department flew Rice out of Washington on a plane typically used by U.S. General John Abizaid and did not file many of the forms typically needed to get the use of such a plane, keeping its paper trail to a minimum.

The State Department did not even tell its own operations center -- which handles communications and monitors crises for the department -- until Rice had already left Washington.

Rice's plane refueled in Germany but Rice stayed on board so that no one at the airport would recognize her. She then changed planes again in the Gulf state of Qatar.

The crew of the U.S. military aircraft that picked her up in Qatar knew they were flying someone important to Iraq but found out who only when the top U.S. diplomat got on board.

Inside Iraq, Rice donned a bulletproof vest and a combat helmet before boarding helicopters to Arbil in northern Iraq.

Asked about the tight security, Rice said: "Obviously, there is a security situation and I am following [advice] about the security situation.

"I wanted to get there, and this is the way to get there."