Former American first lady Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Baghdad on Friday hot on the heels of a lightning stealth visit by US President George W. Bush, cautioning that Washington still faced a "big challenge" in the country.
Clinton was spending one day in the insurgency-ridden Iraqi capital, during which she met top US civilian and military officials including US overseer Paul Bremer and ground forces commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez.
She also lunched with troops from her home state of New York in the dining hall at the former city centre palace of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, which is now the seat of the US-led occupation administration.
Unlike the US president, who never left the main military camp at Baghdad airport during his two-and-a-half hour stopover, Clinton then left the heavily fortified complex around the palace to go and visit troops.
She also met Iraqi officials, including the sole woman member of the US-installed interim cabinet, public works minister Nasreen Mustafa Sadiq Barwari.
Clinton warned that the coalition still faced many enemies in Iraq and urged the US administration to change its reconstruction strategy to allow the UN a greater role in postwar Iraq.
"It's no longer sufficient for our military to win battles but they have to win the hearts and minds. It's a very big challenge," said Clinton, who visited Baghdad as part of a tour of conflict zones that saw her spend Thanksgiving with US troops in Afghanistan.
"We're in a very difficult political situation, trying to expedite a process for self-governance that will be very challenging," Clinton said. "We have a lot of adversaries that wish us and the Iraqi people nothing but bad news."
Clinton said it was still not too late to give the UN a leading role in administering Iraq to relieve expense and pressure from the US-led occupiers, but was pessimistic this would take place.
"We face a very big hill to climb. We face a complex security situation. The process of putting together self-governance in a short period of time is very difficult. We still need more help, more support from the international community."
"I'm a big believer that we ought to internationalize this, but it will take a big change in our administration's thinking," Clinton said. "I don't see that it's forthcoming."
The former first lady, who is now a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she had "wanted to come to Iraq to let the troops know about the great job they're doing."
She said she had supported the Bush administration's US$87 billion supplementary defense budget to pay for its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but added she would have structured it differently.
Fellow senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who has been accompanying Clinton on her tour and previously visited Iraq in July, said his visits had confirmed his opposition to the US-led war.
"This isn't the right approach," he said. "The longer we're unable to suppress the violence, the quicker the Iraqis will become impatient with our presence. And the level of violence has accelerated dramatically."
Both senators said they supported Bush's lightning visit to Baghdad on Thursday, to spend Thanksgiving with US troops who have been plagued by attacks during their seven-month occupation.
"I thought it was terrific," Clinton said.