U.N. Chief Meets With Iraqi Prime Minister

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Friday to meet Iraq's prime minister, a day after official election results showed the Iraqi leader's allies swept to victory in provincial elections.

Ban and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki discussed the virtually violence-free Jan. 31 election and how it would affect relations between Iraq and the United Nations, said al-Maliki's spokesman Yassin Majid.

U.N. representatives worked closely with the Iraqis in preparing for the balloting, in which voters chose provincial officials.

"This visit is to give more support to Iraq and to show the strong relationship between the U.N. and Iraq," Majid told The Associated Press.

Last year, during an address at the United Nations, Ban said the holding of credible elections in Iraq "could in the long run serve to underpin the legitimacy of democratic governance."

Last Saturday's elections, for ruling councils in 14 of the 18 provinces, were the first nationwide balloting since December 2005 and went off peacefully. Al-Maliki's party and political allies won convincing victories in 10 provinces, an endorsement of his crackdown on extremism and violence, according to election results released Thursday.

Al-Maliki's impressive showing, which must be certified by international and Iraqi observers, places the prime minister in a strong position before parliamentary elections late this year and could bolster U.S. confidence that it can begin withdrawing more of its 140,000 troops.

Ban's meeting with al-Maliki comes under completely different circumstances than their last meeting in March 2007 when a nearby rocket attack forced him to duck behind a podium during a joint press conference in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone.

Violence is down sharply since last year after a U.S.-Iraqi offensive broke the power of Shiite militias and after many Sunni gunmen abandoned the insurgency. U.S. military death tolls have fallen to a fraction of levels seen at the height of the war.

His visit also comes a day after he stopped in Afghanistan and urged U.S. and NATO-led forces to prevent civilian casualties in their operations.

Meanwhile, Iraq's state minister of women's affairs, Nawal al-Samarraie, said Friday that she submitted her resignation this week over what she calls a lack of support for the widows and other women facing great hardship in the wartorn country. She said she waiting for a response from the prime minister's office.

Tens of thousands of women have been left widows by Iraq's violence. They have virtually no safety net and few job opportunities and usually depend on extended families.