Cheney Makes Unannounced Trip to Baghdad

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 9, 2007; 2:02 PM

BAGHDAD, May 9 -- Vice President Cheney flew into Baghdad unannounced on Wednesday intending to urge top Iraqi officials to reconcile a divided government and move forward on key legislative initiatives in an attempt to quell Iraq's unrelenting violence, U.S. officials said.

The urgency of the situation was emphasized by an explosion that rattled windows in the U.S. Embassy inside the heavily guarded Green Zone, where Cheney spent the day meeting with Iraqi and U.S. officials. After the early evening blast, reporters following Cheney were moved to a basement "attack shelter," but Cheney was not moved and "his business was not disrupted," said Lea Anne McBride, his spokeswoman.

The details of Cheney's meetings with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, several Iraqi ministers and other leading figures were not made public, but U.S. officials traveling with Cheney said that he intended to pressure the Iraqi government to refrain from taking a two-month recess from parliament and to urge Iraqi officials to to make more progress reconciling rival Sunni and Shiite groups.

"We've got to pull together. We've got to get this work done. It's game time," one American official said.

The Iraqi government has made little progress on achieving certain benchmark goals set by U.S. officials, including amending the constitution, passing legislation to manage oil resources, and bringing back some former Baath Party members who were driven from the government en masse after the invasion -- a move seen as fueling the insurgency and sense of isolation and powerlessness among Sunnis.

President Bush has committed nearly 30,000 new U.S. soldiers to work in and around Baghdad to try to create a secure enough environment for political reconciliation to proceed.

"I think they recognize it's in their interests as well as ours to make progress on the political front," Cheney told reporters.

Speaking after the explosion, Cheney noted that "everybody recognizes there still are some security problems, security threats, no question about it."

But he added that Iraqis he had spoken with Wednesday said they believe the security situation is improving. "They cite specifically the statistics on sectarian violence, Sunni-on-Shia and Shia-on-Sunni violence that they think is down fairly dramatically," he said.

Cheney also restated the administration's insistence that the funding bill for the operations in Iraq not "contain conditions that limit either the flexibility of our commanders on the ground in Iraq or interferes with the president's constitutional prerogatives as commander in chief."

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Wednesday that President Bush would veto the new Iraq spending bill being developed by House Democrats because it includes unacceptable language restricting funding.

Prime Minister Maliki issued a statement expressing his commitment to evenhanded enforcement of the law. He "stressed that the internal and external challenges that the government is facing will not divert it from achieving its plans in spreading the sovereignty of the law, restricting weapons in the hands of the state and achieving national reconciliation," the statement read.

Staff writer Lexie Verdon in Washington contributed to this article.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company